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Discussing Discrimination in the Workplace

Discussion Overview

The purpose of this exercise is to help you understand and manage different workplace scenarios and deal with the primary dimensions of diversity. This case study will focus on gender.


My name is Melanie. The first summer after receiving my MBA, I accepted a job from a consulting firm. I had previously worked for them as an intern while earning my degree. I knew that if I worked really hard for them during the internship, I would have a good chance of starting with a great position there.

About two years into my job, my husband and I were finally used to our different work schedules. I did a lot of traveling, but I enjoyed working with clients directly. We finally decided that it was time to start a family. My husband said that to do that, we would both need to adjust out schedules. I would not be able to travel quite as much and he would need to stop putting in such long hours at work. I was excited with the thought of becoming a mom and even told a small number of my close work friends about it.

About a month went by when I was called in for a private meeting with one of the firm's partners. It was time for my performance review. He told me that the firm was pleased with my work and that I was being considered for a promotion. I was very excited until he said, "Melanie, before we decided anything, we need to know what your 5-year plan is." I began to explain how I planned to keep working hard for them and doing what needed to be done. That I was happy working with them. He cut me off with, "Though we see a future for you here, we need to know that you plan to put in the long hours. We have heard rumors that you plan to start a family, how will you factor a family into the demands of this job?"

I was surprised by this question. How did he hear about that aspect of my life? I was sure I only told close friends. Why does he need to know about me becoming a mom? He told me to think about the promotion and the demands and if I thought I could handle such responsibilities. He also explained that they were considering a few other candidates for the promotion. He wanted to talk again in a few days to discuss the idea again. I left feeling disheartened. I felt that I had to choose between being a mom and getting that promotion.

Two days went by and it was time to meet him in his office again. I still had no idea what to say to him.

The Questions

Think about the legal and managerial aspects of this situation.

1. Is there anything wrong with the partners wanting to promote someone willing to put in the long hours? Explain.

2. How should Melanie deal with this situation? What should she say in the meeting? Is it possible for her to have both? Explain.

Solution Preview

There is nothing wrong with the partners wanting to promote someone willing to put in long hours if that is what the position requires. If the typical work responsibilities require a schedule that will dedicate a lot of time and will require the person in that position to be willing and able to put that time in then this becomes a job requirement. What is wrong with this scenario is that she is being positioned an illegal question. To ask someone about their plans to start a family falls under the federal protection of anti-discrimination. By asking this question her employer is putting ...

Solution Summary

What to do when posed with a question that would require you be discriminated agains