Every now and then I’ll see a headline or hear someone (a favorite talking point during election cycles) using the term ‘single working mom’ with the unmistakable tone that every single working mom is struggling to make ends meet. The articles tend to be accompanied by images of stressed looking moms in waitress uniforms counting out change to pay for food while the kids clutch on to mom’s hip. Give me a break.

Making judgements based on one’s marital and/or family status is another form of bias. Bias against single working mom’s (SWM’s) doesn’t get much attention, often because it’s unconscious like most bias is.

I became a single mom due to divorce during my corporate career. I had just been promoted into my first leadership position as a supervisor for a customer service team. There was no need to pity me. I didn’t struggle to make ends meet and I wasn’t crushed under the burden of caring for my children while trying to do a good job at work. I was able to do my job and take care of my kids.

I didn’t have live-in help. I didn’t have family nearby. My ex-husband was involved, but I took care of the majority of the dental and doctor appointments and extra-curricular activities. Just like many working moms and dads, single or not, do. I worked a standard 8am-4:30pm; 5-day-a-week job. I was fortunate because I had a couple of great bosses who looked at results, not labels and my career continued to thrive and I continued to get promoted.

Some of the common perceptions about SWM’s:

  • They are unreliable
  • They don’t pull their weight and others pick up the slack
  • They will call out of work frequently
  • They can’t handle more responsibility
  • They are under constant stress
  • They struggle to make ends meet

Like anyone who has been put in a box, these perceptions of struggling SWM’s bug me. Is it true that some SWM’s fit into this stereotype? Of course. Just like there are unreliable, struggling, stressed out married working moms and dads not to mention people who fit every other variety of marital/family status.

How these perceptions can create barriers for SWM’s:

  • They get passed up for promotions
  • They are excluded from projects
  • They don’t get hired – yes, this is illegal discrimination but it happens

What can you do? Try the 3-step HOW process to uncover and move beyond unconscious bias:  

  1. Be HONEST about your bias. As I always say, perceptions are perceptions. They aren’t good or bad. We all have them. Our perceptions are based on many factors including our experience, values, and environment to name a few. I come from a long line of divorced women who were independent and strong and that shapes my own perceptions as well as living it myself.
  2. Be OPEN-MINDED and do your homework. Find a SWM and find out her story, talk to more than one. You might be surprised. You’ll probably find that most SWM’s are resourceful; they know how to juggle multiple responsibilities and get it all done. Okay – that’s my own bias showing through. Not every SWM is resourceful or able to juggle multiple responsibilities. But since that’s MY experience that’s how I perceive the world to be. Anyway, I think that’s a better perception than the alternative of turning every SWM into a struggling, down-trodden, stressed-out victim.
  3. Be WILLING to give people a chance based on their merits and accomplishments, don’t write them off because of a label.

Bias Against SWM’s (single working mom’s)