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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.

msrisotto Sat 09-Mar-13 07:31:30

Sheryl Sandbery lives in a dream world to be fair. It seems with her, everything is about (fantastic, fulfilling) careers and well run businesses. The world at large is not like this.

Some women are going for lower paid jobs that she would probably not consider a career, such as cleaner or shelf stacker. I just don't see the businesses interest in the career planning of their cleaner tbh. They seem to be treated as quite replaceable and where a company sees that someone might be a pita, they just won't bother employing them. This just won't happen with men. She's really annoyed me with this privileged and oblivious comment.

And this is getting way too personal! I am 27 with no immediate plans for children but even if I were ttc right now, I would lie in interview. I mean, imagine asking your interviewee and them saying they were infertile?! You might understand how inappropriate the question is at that point. I wouldnt tell family when i was ttc because it might not happen for me and i do not need the questions, i dont even want others thinking sbout me in that way. call me british but its just too intimate. And as others have said, the answer is meaningless even if true because people who believe they are infertile can still fall pregnant or adopt.

Pregnancy is actually the most convenient long term leave an employee can take. There is plenty of time to plan around it, but a lot of stupid companies don't even do that. What good would more time do??

SPBInDisguise Sat 09-Mar-13 07:35:31

I have been wanting to comment on this but tbh am still quite shocked that mnhq think it's the sort of thing we'd like to debate. It may be that the op knew exactly what the responses would be, but tbh I've always thought of mnhq as campaigners for parents and for women, and so I'm quite surprised they're even asking the question. Otoh it's nice to be consulted...but still.

swallowedAfly Sat 09-Mar-13 07:53:33

i agree it's too private. yes you could be infertile, you could have just found out your husband is cheating on you, you could be desperate to have children but your partner doesn't want to or you haven't found the right person, you could be gay and already have decided your partner was going to be the birth mum but not wish to disclose your sexuality to your employer, you could have had a horrendous miscarriage recently or just been through a termination after screening discovered a condition that would mean the baby wouldn't survive to term anyway and on and on and on.

it is so inappropriate to ask a woman about this let alone to ask her in the interview process.

some people just don't think do they? this woman is coming at this from such a naive and narrow perspective about the realities of women's lives and employers attitudes. to her it might seem a simple question - to others it might be everything but.

ThePskettiIncident Sat 09-Mar-13 08:06:39

No. Like others here I think it's an infringement of privacy, sexist and bloody rude.

People take jobs for many reasons and how would the employer react if the the woman said: "no, but I am only working here to save up for my one year off back packing round the world."

It's just a way of singling out women and using maternity as a stick to beat them with.

If an em

ThePskettiIncident Sat 09-Mar-13 08:08:01

Oops, posted too early.

If an employer wants to support its parents and potential parents, it should focus on providing good framework and policy for maternity/paternity leave and champion flexible working.

Xenia Sat 09-Mar-13 08:17:08

When, when when will people realise children have two parents? If 30 years my children's father could choose their nanny, be as involved as I was (I ended up earning 10x what he did) surely in 2013 men can be as equally involved? A man has to find childcare. A man has to arrange who will look after his children and pay for it. Not all women want to take 12 months off when a baby comes and plenty cannot afford it. I took 2 weeks. There is no legal or moral requirement on women to be the ones at home.

I always mentioned it in interviews myself. In fact I was recruited 5 months pregnant with a one year old having worked full time since she was 2 weeks and with a stable regular good daily nanny. I was quite happy to talk about it. However it would have to be raised in a gender neutral way and so as not to make some women think they look too old you'd have to ask them up to about age 60 in case they were planning IVF in their 50s. I think a more appropriate question as someone who has also had two elderly parents with needs is whether there is anything in your personal life which might interfere with your job.

No wonder more and more women found their own businesses and out earn men. Much more fun and then what yo do is your own look out. If I want to have IVF triplets using a surrogate when I turn 60 that would be my choice as I won rather than be someone's employee.

HappyJustToBe Sat 09-Mar-13 08:17:23

My friend told her employer in interview she didn't intend to have children (knowing they couldn't ask) because of her DSC. She then got pregnant, had a miscarriage and realised she wanted a baby desperately and is TTC.

Even without the discrimination issue and the fact it is none of their business what would they achieve? My friend didn't lie but a year into employment her wishes have changed. The only way to avoid things like this is not to employ women.

HappyJustToBe Sat 09-Mar-13 08:19:09

Or decent men who take their responsibilities seriously.

WinterMymble Sat 09-Mar-13 08:23:18

INCREDIBLY sexist. Have to ask men too - and frankly the whole asking is only to benefit employers - and really isn't thought through since plans don't necessarily mean timing or DCs will happen, certainly on schedules....

EvenIfYouSeeAPoppy Sat 09-Mar-13 08:32:00

Sexist, intrusive, inappropriate, arrogant.
An organisation that realises it needs its employees, and it not simply doing them a big favour, and understands that people whose lives and commitments outside work are respected will be more productive, would not or should not think of asking such questions.
I've worked in both that kind of organisation and the other kind. No prizes for guessing which job I fled from as soon as I could, taking my not inconsiderable and pretty specialised skills with me.

rhondajean Sat 09-Mar-13 09:14:18

There is absolutely no way this should be asked. Ignoring the illegality of it at present, if someone is the best candidate for teh job they remain the best candidate for the job regardless.

What of the people who take a job as a stepping stone and stay for a year then move on permanently?

Unless you can afford - and want to! -hire a surrogate there is no option except for women to have children. Men are physically incapable. They should not be penalised for it. I'm always furious stunned by the posters on here who tell women they must tell they are pregnant at interviews. Until men are told the same and treated in the same way for becoming/planning to become parents it's utterly wrong.

It's also part of this subscription to the idea that having children will make women less valuable employees while men won't be affected or will work harder and THAT is something we as women need to do something about. I know in my personal experience that having children made me determined to work harder than ever, firstly to set a good example and secondly in order to ensure I could be financially stable on my own for their sake, if it was ever needed for any reason.

It will only really become fair when maternity leave can be equally split, and commonly is split, between mothers and fathers. (so not really maternity, more parental leave then).

Another point - what if women are in a same sex relationship? Their plans to have a child could be utterly irrelevant to the employer as they may not be the one who carries the child - but the employer wouldn't be allowed to ask that would they?

williaminajetfighter Sat 09-Mar-13 09:37:50

I have managed large teams of 30+ and found the biggest periods of staff absence are not mat leave but sick leave for stress and depression going off for 6-12 months then back, then off again, then back. Mat leave is far easier to manage and has less impact on the organisation.

At interview Should we be asking candidates about their mental state or how robust they are as well??!!

Xenia Sat 09-Mar-13 09:48:57

I certainly found it was a huge selling point that I never had a day off sick and took 2 weeks of annual holiday to have a baby in and then go back full time. It worked wonderfully for my career and the children and endured a non sexist set up at home too and I saw no reason not to mention that to employers in interviews. If you take 2 weeks off to have a baby in and this part time work is dreadful and bad for women and their families and have a stable nanny who stays 10 years and indeed are a feminist whose income is the family's prime income it can be a good idea to mention it. When recruited at 5 months' pregnant I was certainly more than happy to raise it at interview and I got the job too.

I agree with willami mentioning sickness records as more important. Some of us whether we have babies or not never have a day's sick in our lives and others are whingeing skivers who are off work at the drop of a hat. Employers are wise to look for fit healthy stoics who are tough, whatever their sex. Also some women are married to sexist men as it were who think women take time off if children are ill. Non sexist marriages don't work like that so it can be helpful for an employer to know you are not married to a man who sees your career as pin money and never lifts a finger.

It can work the other way too - my children's father's female teacher colleagues were allowed to leave school early and he had to stay later even though he was primarily responsible for getting home to let the nanny go at 6lm, not I.

ohforfoxsake Sat 09-Mar-13 09:54:35

It pisses me off that you've even asked the question. Especially on here.

Until we have more women in senior roles, positions of power and proper equality in the workplace, then asking the question will always put women in a dangerous position. Let's take yet another massive leap backwards shall we?

ohforfoxsake Sat 09-Mar-13 10:05:35

And don't forget to ask about ageing parents. Women remain the main carers for the elderly, so worth asking if they are likely to die at any point in your career.

KristinaM Sat 09-Mar-13 11:27:59

My friend, a school teacher, confided in her head of department that she and her Dh were TTC. She was then given the worst classes and she didn't get promoted. After 7 years of TTc, infertility treatment, adoption assessment and approval, they finally adopted a baby. She was off work for ONE TERM -stopped work at Easter and when back to work full time after the summer holiday ( no adoption leave then, it was all unpaid ) .her DH went part time as he earned less.

Her career was irrevocably damaged by her notifying her employer of her plans.

flatmum Sat 09-Mar-13 11:28:43

The very title of this thread is yet more discrimination <bored of it now>

why only ask the women? Many families share childcare responsibilities 50/50 now.

I just got a new job at a City bank and no one has asked me my age or whther I have/plan to have children. Which is how it should be. How I manage my personal life is my own affair. If it impinges on my work life or stops me doing my job (it won't) - get rid of me.

KristinaM Sat 09-Mar-13 11:30:22

My BIL has been off work for months after a heart bypass. He was a heavy smoker and drinker. Maybe his employer should have asked him about his lifestyle ? So they could have helped him plan his career around his heart disease.

thaliablogs Sat 09-Mar-13 12:02:54

I think it shows just how difficult the situation is now that all the responses to the title are negative, seeing it as potentially reducing women's chances and being discriminatory. I read it in a much more positive light - potentially, assuming it was used in the right way.

We know that women are much more likely to return from maternity leave and stay in work after they have children if they are in a rewarding, interesting job before they go on leave, e.g., with early managerial responsibility. They are also more likely to be successful in the long term if they are sponsored by someone more senior - something that tends to happen more easily for men as there are simply more senior men around. (Realise this is slanted towards families where there are some options in terms of balance of work etc).

So having the conversation a few years before someone goes on leave helps create a more successful long term path and encourages them to see work as "worth it."

Now you could say, just do this for everyone and you don't need to ask about plans, which Lso has the downside everyone else has shared. I guess I'd just like companies to be doing it at all, so I can see ms sandberg's point. But more than that, I'm sorry we're in such a state that even suggesting this is seen as overwhelmingly negative.

MarshaBrady Sat 09-Mar-13 12:05:43

No. Who knows how long this planned for family will take to happen anyway.

Snowylady Sat 09-Mar-13 13:28:20

Managers at my place ask it because we don't have family friendly policies - something I DON'T support!

But....if it was asked to be helpful - to know if the parent had children or were planning on having them (hence at an interview they can discuss the measures they could agree to from a flexible working stance) and hence the job seeker and Company can make an informed decision. I also think it is helpful if a parent did ask their employer at an interview, or prior to going off on maternity leave - the reply received could save a lot of heartache and hassle in the long run if everyone is open (i.e. no flexible working requests that take an age only to be refused, or a hire that doesn't work out).

Sadly, most companies aren't in the latter category, so no, they shouldn't be allowed to ask as it would be a leading question to not hire / manage someone out!

elastamum Sat 09-Mar-13 14:42:25

Cant believe you are asking this hmm

It is blatantly discriminatory and if anyone in my workplace was asked this by HR or their line manager I would be absolutley furious.

Snowylady Sat 09-Mar-13 15:32:59

Elastamum it is blatantly discriminatory (no disagreements there!) but I think it would make everyones lives so much easier if employees and employers could openly discuss. I've heard in the past that new joiners wanted to ask what the maternity policy was before they joined a new job but obviously couldn't. They weren't planning on having a baby immediately but maybe in a few years and were planning on their next move being the job they worked in for a few years before they started ttc. Flexible working ideas could be discussed way in advance etc etc. Of course this isn't real life and that is why the equality act exists...but if the Company was forward thinking and open.....things would be so much easier. I say this as an HR professional who forbids managers from ever asking anything like this but this is with my practical hat on!!

blondieminx Sat 09-Mar-13 15:58:02


I agree with AThingInYourLife.

The ConDems family policies all suck (especially the ratios thing).

badinage Sat 09-Mar-13 16:17:14

I'm wondering whether when MNHQ posted this, they actually realised this proposal is against the law? It took another poster to point out that there was no proposal to ask men about their prospective fatherhood or life plans.

It might also have been better to produce the full extract of what MNHQ described as a 'report' as I'm guessing a senior exec. of a global organisation does know the laws of the countries they trade in and therefore the report was more nuanced than this suggests.

I also think if this was an organisation with a good reputation towards women, the debate would have been different, while still pointing out that discrimination is unlawful.

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