Last Thursday night, the dramatic Suits gender discrimination storyline came to an end, as the Pearson Hardman attorneys discovered an email from the head of Folsom Foods explicating his reason for failing to promote qualified women. It came down to pregnancy: he did not want to give women with powerful positions within his company time off for pregnancy, childbirth, and taking care of their children. In fact, one of the few women who was in such a position had undergone a hysterectomy months before her promotion. Our friends at Pearson Hardman won the day and the defendant company had to pay for a hefty settlement to make up for the discrimination over the years. Hooray!
From calling women “aggressive” and “difficult” in performance reviews to justify their non-promotions, to assuming that women employees would be mothers first and workers second, the head of Folsom Foods relied on some of the oldest stereotypes in the book. These stereotypes are part of the reason why the wage gap has remained stuck, with the typical woman earning 77 cents to the typical man’s dollar, for the past decade.
As Jessica pointed out on the show, Folsom Foods should not get to make the choice for its female employees about whether they apply for a promotion. But this is more about choice and individuals: it’s about policy. As much as we need to work to change stereotypes, we also need to continue to work towards more comprehensive policies which will help all women to be protected on the job. We need policies to protect pregnant workers who need accommodations and workers who wish to discuss their pay with other employees in order to determine if they are being discriminated against.
I love Suits and would have watched these episodes anyway – but it’s been especially fun seeing how pop culture can bring our message and our work to a broader audience. I’m disappointed that Rachel didn’t get into Harvard, but I have a feeling that there are more twists to come. Keep watching Suits on Thursday nights at 10 p.m. EST on USA for more, and keep checking out our blog for more updates on our work!