I always drop in a little tidbit about my kids when I interview for a job. I mentioned this to a friend recently and she was aghast. “But, but, they aren’t allowed to ask you about your personal life. You know that , right?” I know that the law gives me the right to stay silent, to pretend as though I turn into a ghost between 5pm and 8am. She wanted to know why would I bring up something that could potentially block me from getting a job offer.
I’ll be straight with you. I speak up because I can. I am a well-educated, middle class, white woman with lots of experience in my field. While I may not get the first job I apply for, I am probably going to get the second or the third. Kids or no kids, I interview well and present a strong option for someone looking to hire.
When I want a job, I go over the top with my job application prep work, knocking their socks off with a well-crafted cover letter and a personalized brochure explaining why I am the ideal candidate. I sell them on the idea of me well before they meet me. Employers love it, and consequently, love me.
When I go in for an interview, regardless of whether the interviewer is young or old, male or female, I find the opportunity to drop in that I’ve got a family. I make sure that they know that I took an extended maternity leave, make school runs and refuse to work nights and weekends. I take whatever preconceived notions they might have about a woman’s commitment to the job or the risk of absence or an extended leave, and I punch those notions right in the face with my experience and insights. I make them choose between accepting me for the capable worker that they loved in my cover letter, or knowing that sexism is the reason they are saying no.
While I am allowed to be silent on my family’s existence, I don’t think that does me or anyone else any favors. Pregnancy, raising children and running a household shouldn’t be dark secrets we women have to hide. They made me strong, determined and dedicated; they are badges of honor, not demerits. If the hiring manager disagrees with me, I’d much rather know that at the interview stage than when I pop a framed family photo on my desk.
When I speak up, I’m doing so for all the women who can’t. I know full and well that there are a lot of women who are less fortunate than I am. Women who could not afford to go to college or graduate school, single moms, women of different races and backgrounds – all of whom have to fight against a much greater prejudice when they walk into the room. These women have to shove their family and personal obligations into a dark corner during the interview, or else they run the risk of “concerns about their dedication to the job” being the whitewashed reason why they are rejected. I think this is bullshit.
A long time ago it was okay to reject a women because of her family plans. The best solution lawmakers could find at the time was to allow her to stay silent. I think it’s time we move past that. We’ll never recognize how much mothers (and fathers) bring to the company’s bottom line and the economy overall if we continue to pretend that they don’t exist.
If we’re ever going to get to the point when parenthood is a valued skill, we need to start talking about it. I happen to think it begins with people like me. That’s why I always talk about my kids in job interviews.