Birgith Phillips

Birgith Phillips

I came to the US from Costa Rica on a student visa. It’s customary in Costa Rica to have a maid. We had a lady working in the house, who helped to clean and cook. My mother said: “You better learn from her because it may not always be like this.” My mother was always traveling for work, so everything I know about the household work I learned from our maid.  When we came to this country, I worked with my mother cleaning houses to help her with paying bills while I was getting my education.

After college I started looking for jobs at a large science building. When I was told that the only open position was to clean offices, I decided to take it. I wanted to stay in the building and get noticed. My strategy was to leave my resume on people’s desks. Soon enough people paid attention and invited me for interviews. I started moving up within the company.  During one of the job interviews leading to a promotion the interviewing male supervisor asked me to pull my hair up. He recognized me as the woman, who cleaned his office in the past and said: “I can’t believe that I got called in for this interview. She was a cleaning lady. I’m not going to interview a cleaning lady.” None of my academic and professional achievements were relevant to him. All he cared about is that I was a cleaning lady in the past.

The problem is that employees see maids as lesser people and treat them without any respect.  On the other hand, many women who stay at home are perceived as lazy or unemployed. If all the women, who stay at home were credited and appreciated for the work they do, then many attitudes towards the household and domestic workers would shift as well.

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