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Should HR departments ask women about their plans to start a family?

(223 Posts)
Vickimumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 06-Mar-13 16:39:06

Sheryl Sandbery COO of Facebook has recently said, “Employers should be allowed to ask women about plans for children … Every HR department tells you not to do that but we need to have a much more open conversation.” This has got the Family Friendly team at Mumsnet wondering what you think. Would it make for easier career planning for women and a more open discussion between women at work and employers or would it be a massive backwards step? Have you ever wanted to talk to a potential employer about your long term plans or ask about their maternity package? Have you ever been asked and felt that your answer has had a negative impact on your employability? We'd love to know.

WyrdMother Wed 06-Mar-13 16:43:14

Are we going to ask men too?

UseHerName Wed 06-Mar-13 16:44:20

very good Wyrd wink I like your style!

AThingInYourLife Wed 06-Mar-13 16:50:41

Problems that immediately spring to mind

1 people will lie.

2 will an employer be entitled to penalise you if you get pregnant when you indicated you weren't planning to? If not, what is the point?

3 Many families don't go according to plan. The idea that women have 100% control over when they have children is a (pernicious) myth.

4 Unless you are asking men too, then I'll be taking a gender discrimination case. And winning it.

SuffolkNWhat Wed 06-Mar-13 16:52:44

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

FireOverBabylon Wed 06-Mar-13 16:53:55

"Would it make for easier career planning for women and a more open discussion between women at work and employers" Hell no - what if you explain that you want a family but then can't have one, what if you find you're having twins and your plans change?

The only two people I know who've asked about childare / flexible working at interview have both been dads; judging by the responses they got back from the interview panels, employers are not wholly geared up to have these conversations just yet.

minsmum Wed 06-Mar-13 17:04:28

If they also ask do you plan to adopt, have you elderly parents, do you plan to win the lottery etc.
If they tell women what the long term plans for the company and the womens jobs are with regards to employment, promotion and pay rises are..

If they then ask every man and every women of all ages all the questions.

Plus whether they are meeting the equal pay for work of equal value criteiria and what their plans are to remedy it if not

No problem

Vickimumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 07-Mar-13 09:20:27

Interesting that she specifically said 'ask women' .... just went back to the report and checked! I guess she is thinking that it's about helping women to plan their career (she says being sisterly to another woman who basically has expressed a view I'm struggling with smile )

AThingInYourLife Thu 07-Mar-13 09:25:27

Helping women plan their career my fat arse grin

That is the kind of doublespeak HR people come out with though.

She might even believe it.

BlueyDragon Thu 07-Mar-13 09:31:04

Open conversations, yes. Women only, no. And discriminating on the basis of the answer, no. So based on that train of thought, why would you ever need to ask it at an interview? Hire the best person for the job THEN have the conversations that enable you as the employer and employee to get the most out of the relationship. Obviously you have to be sensitive to personal dynamics when having these conversations too, as many people wouldn't want, for lots of reasons, to discuss their family plans or their health or their family circumstances. Not all employers are ogres though and some genuinely would welcome these conversations in order to make the relationship better and help employees, not discriminate against the employee.

HR concerns (misconceptions) do make it more difficult to have open conversations IME, which breeds assumptions. I had an entire department assuming I wasn't coming back after mat leave because no-one else ever had, but no-one felt able to ask me the question.

FelicityWasCold Thu 07-Mar-13 09:34:19

If we don't ask men it is meaningless.

And women would lie- I would. Because to admit to wanting a family would damage your chances of employment- and until that culture is changed it would be madness to tell the truth. And if you have 'lied' and then become pregnant, how would they prove whether or not it was planned? Horrendous situation could ensue.

AThingInYourLife Thu 07-Mar-13 09:35:25

There's nothing stopping people having open conversations with their employers now about their family planning.

Presumably they don't for the same reason people tend not to talk about these things to any but their closest confidants - it's intensely private.

Nothing needs to change unless there is to be some element of forced co-operation.

BlueyDragon Thu 07-Mar-13 20:53:18

But there are barriers to employers asking the question, "Oh, you mustn't ask that, you'll get done for discrimination". Even when the purpose of asking the question is not actually discriminatory but designed to assist the employee and employer in continuing their working relationship.

CabbageLeaves Thu 07-Mar-13 21:22:15

I've just employed someone and my educated guess is that the only candidate going to possibly need maternity leave is the one I've employed.

Did it cross my mind? If I'm honest...yes. Small dept, long time training new staff with costs involved. Impact will be significant if she does fall pregnant. She was the best candidate and got the job anyway.

My point is that the conversation would not have made the difference to me. Had it made a difference I'd probably be the sort of employer to have avoided her regardless.

What are HR hoping to get out of it?

Is this pre employment, during employment? Will they ask yearly? Will they stop asking when you're 45, single?

Stupid idea I think

swallowedAfly Fri 08-Mar-13 13:54:00

no way! hugely regressive move.

and just wow at her specifically saying 'ask women'.

no, no, no, no, no!

dozily Fri 08-Mar-13 13:55:57

I would strongly oppose this. And asking men as well as women wouldn't stop sex discrimination at all - like it or not, they will ignore the man's answer but mentally put a black mark against the woman's name if she said she was planning a family soon. Employer are well aware that women are more likely than men to request maternity leave and flexible working.

Wigeon Fri 08-Mar-13 13:58:05

As well as agreeing with what everyone's exactly would this make career planning better from the woman's point of view? So let's imagine that the employer knows that the woman is planning on getting pregnant. So they put her on a short-term project, as she'll be off soon, right? She gets pregnant. She tells her employers after the 12 week scan. Then she miscarries. She is coming to the end of the short-term project. She is still TTC but it's taking a while. The employer thinks, I won't put her on that big high profile project. She still isn't pregnant. In the time she's still been at work, she could have been on a big project right from the start.

I can't see any benefits from the employee's point of view and therefore no incentives to tell your employer about your plans.

GlaikitFizzog Fri 08-Mar-13 14:02:51

Will the employer also pay for fertility tests on those who say they are planning a family? Many many people would love children, but cannot, for what ever reason. If you say no, will you have to provide proof of you decision? Letter fro the doctor prescribing your birth control or who performed your sterilisation.

Discrimination against women of childbearing age already exists, bringing in this just gives the employer justification.

Is she related to Katie Hopkins? They would get on like a house on fire!

dozily Fri 08-Mar-13 14:02:51

However... it would be "family friendly" for a company to promote its maternity /paternity /flexible working policies to job applicants as long as the applicants weren't expected to divulge their plans. I would certainly support this.

Phineyj Fri 08-Mar-13 14:04:28

Only if it's so they can make sure I know about their subsidised workplace creche!!

Booyhoo Fri 08-Mar-13 14:06:31


GlaikitFizzog Fri 08-Mar-13 14:07:10

Can I also say, the company I work for have fantastic maternity policy and pay, but twice I have been over looked for a promotion since returning from maternity leave.

So having the policies doesnt necessarily mean the company is "family friendly" it's all about the lower management who implement them and if you happen upon someone who does not think the same way they can quite easily give you a different reason for you unsuccessful application.

Trills Fri 08-Mar-13 14:15:15

Vicki is there any chance that you'd like to change your nickname to VickiMumsnet with a big M?

I think companies should advocate flexible working and working from home for everyone where their job is suitable for it, regardless of their family situation or other responsibilities. I think that employees are more motivated and work better when they feel that their employers trust them and believe in them.

AThingInYourLife Fri 08-Mar-13 14:22:19

But there are barriers to employers asking the question, "Oh, you mustn't ask that, you'll get done for discrimination".

And rightly so.

Asking someone about their family planning is impertinent.

If your employees want your help in this regard, they will ask.

OhGood Fri 08-Mar-13 14:24:47

In an ideal world, if I were planning a long career with an organisation, I would really like to be able to have an open conversation about this, if I were TTC, for example.

Unfortunately, as all previous comments have pointed out, we are light years away from that ideal world. And the frame of the question alone (casting this as an issue for women only? I mean have we got nowhere with this issue?) should show why we need all the current protection and legislation.

I think there are far more constructive things Sheryl Sandbery can do to be sisterly.

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