How many times have women gone into an interview and suddenly been hit with THE question? The “Do you have kids” question? More than you’d think.
Is it unfair, unethical, and possibly illegal? Yes.
It is still being asked? Yes
Despite the increased productivity they provide, working mothers often fall prey to what has been dubbed the “motherhood penalty,” or the decrease in a woman’s income as a result of becoming a mother. According to a 2014 study, women see a 4 percent decrease in income per child born or adopted. In contrast, dads see a 6 percent jump in income, dubbed the “fatherhood bonus.”
The “Motherhood Penalty” starts long before women have kids too, and it manifests in a number of ways, not just financially. The fact that a woman is a mother or has the potential to become a mother can be used against her from as early as the interview process.
Recruiters, hiring managers, interviewers – they all have implicit bias. And though their intentions might not be nefarious, the fact of the matter is that working mothers’ face discrimination in the workplace. And if you are asked if you have children, or are marries, or any question related to your family status, you should not answer. We’ll get to what you do instead shortly.
Why do hiring managers ask if you have children?
They ask it to figure out if you are going to be “committed” and “available” and “productive”. They have been conditioned to believe that when a woman has children, somehow she is less able, capable, and professional. That has been proven time and time again to be patently UNTRUE.
The answer to this question frames different women differently:
- A younger woman who answers “no” indicates someone who will likely want to have at some point in the future. That means maternity leave.
- A younger woman who answers “yes” indicates someone who will likely have younger children, calls from school, sick days, and late mornings possibly. That means flexible schedules.
- An older woman who answers “no” is seen as “safe” but then also somehow a pariah. Something must be “wrong” with her.
- An older woman who answer “yes” is seen as “safe” but then also comes under scrutiny for why she’s looking for work, if she’s re-entering the workplace after a gap, and is then qualified.
Sure this is a rather fatalistic, misogynistic breakdown of things – but the stats say we’re not wrong.
Why are men not asked the same question? (spoiler: because unlike women, having children isn’t used as an indicator of that man’s “commitment” to his career)
So let’s talk about answering the “wrong questions”.
HOW TO ANSWER TRAP QUESTIONS
The correct answer to “Do you have children?” is “Why do you ask?”.
They can respond with a variety of answers ranging from “just curious” and “trying to get to know you”. All of which you should respond to with a smile and then ask your own questions. “If I may, I’d like to ask a question about….”
If they persist (which would be highly unusual, but a red flag) the correct answer from you (pending how feisty you’re feeling) could range from a very polite “Is having children a prerequisite for the job?” (use it as a positive, not a negative) to “are children relevant to this role?”. Followed with a smile and again, redirecting to your own question.
HOW TO ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
You’re interviewing employers as much as they’re interviewing you. You need to make sure they’re not only a good fit for you in terms of the position itself, but the company’s culture, leadership, and policies are all critical for every woman and mother. Don’t be afraid to deflect the wrong questions, and redirect to the right ones. How have they fared during COVID? How has the company and culture changes/evolved/ adapted for a post-COVID landscape? Ask questions about the industry, the company, the clients, the role, the Key Performance Indicators. Show that you are the consummate professional, no matter what.