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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.

flatmum Wed 13-Mar-13 18:19:20

Beta, sadly I have to entirely agree with you again. Did you work for a bank by any chance? I have seen what you describe an you're right, it's so blatant. They force the women out because confident, clever, well-balanced women remind then if their own failings am inadequacies. Interestingly, all the male managers I have encountered like this had very bitter breakups or terrible relationships with women.behind them in their personal lives (not surprisingly really given what arseholes they were) and I often felt they came into work and took it out on the women under them who couldn't tell them to fuck off like their exes had.

This is getting slightly of topic but I entirely agree with you, maternity issues, women in senior positions are ALL symptoms of these men being in control. This is what hapenned to me and it takes a lot of self belief and sled confidence to come back from it (and set my career back years), many women just give up and become SAHMs. I console myself that these arseholes will soon be dead (invariably fat amd unhealthy) and I do see positive signs that the younger generation of men and women are on more of an equal footing. My boys certainly won't ever treat women that way I have been treated, by some.

flatmum Wed 13-Mar-13 20:25:12

lack of women in senior positions

MoreBeta Wed 13-Mar-13 21:35:16

flatmum - it wasn't a bank but I have seen it in City banks too.

The man in question for some reason just really visceraly hated women and was especially frightened of women who were clever.

He talked about women in a vile and crude way. I eventually left the firm - it really was not a nice place to work. Incredibly macho, lots of posturing and just not actually that good at serving the clients needs.

swallowedAfly Thu 14-Mar-13 06:47:23

i have been on the receiving end of someone like that morebeta and when i was young and naive enough not to really confidently, call and feel it for what it was. the guy hated women except for the motherly, older than him and not ambitious types. he was utterly obstructive to my work, thoroughly unpleasant to me not just in private but in meetings and at any available opportunity. i now feel able to say and know that i was actually really good at my job and getting great results and at the time i started there i came in confident, happy and positive. he hated me instantly.

he became so comfortable with treating me like this and getting away with it that he eventually said something so outrageously inappropriate in such a public way that i was finally able to call it and say enough and make a complaint and try and get things changed. they went through the motions a bit, offered for him to have to read me an apology ya da ya da and i thought it was on record and at least he'd have to start behaving better. a month later he was promoted to be my line manager in both directions i worked in meaning i was totally cornered. i spoke to someone in senior management who knew what had happened and said i didn't feel i could work that way, was poo poo'd and at that point i resigned not only from that position but entirely from that line of work and that work environment.

i actually now feel a bit embarrassed that i let someone do that to me and that i let my experience there have a really big knock on my confidence and on my belief that work could be ok you know? i had my son and stayed out of the workplace and vaguely terrified of it (i honestly felt like everywhere was the same, bully boys in cheap suits who hate women who are as or more able than them). i also feel embarrassed that i let a bullying, negative workplace drive me into depression and anxiety ffs.

now i'm working again and in a position where my abilities, independence and intelligence are really valued rather than seen as a threat or placing a target on my head i keep having to check myself when i think this can't last, this is going too well etc. it's actually now that i'm in a positive environment that i can properly see just how awful that place was and how terribly it affected me. i was shocked by how good my references were from old profs and employers and how impressed they were by me at interview. that place and the bully boy senior management team really did totally interrupt my career and my.... my confidence in myself as a professional.

thanks for calling what it is really like on this thread and i'm sorry everyone for the big confessional me, me, me but it's all a bit fresh in my mind at the minute and quite cathartic.

it is fucking hard and horrible to be treated terribly and not really understand why or what you've done or how to change it because actually it's nothing to do with you you're just a woman and good at her job and that really was enough to put a target on your head the minute you walked in. and senior management teams being all male generally themselves either don't see it for what it is or don't give a damn because he's one of there's and ear marked for fast tracking anyway because he's a yes man who'll do whatever they like and not give a damn about his colleagues which is their ideal candidate.

Xenia Thu 14-Mar-13 10:18:28

On the whole that kind of man is dying out and most of us do not bring up sons to be like that. Also more women are doing better. Once you get a critical mass of women, not 20% at the top but nearer 50% it becomes very hard to sexism to continue. However if loads of women stop work or go part time so that 20% never changes then we end up without progress.

swallowedAfly Thu 14-Mar-13 16:55:44

no this man was younger than me and there are still plenty of them about.

most of the women i see doing better are sadly doing so by playing into sexism as in promoting the idea that other women are doing it wrong but it's ok because they're so different and special and just like you boys so you can safely promote them.

no offense xenia but kind of like you with your 'i only take 2wks maternity and all women should be like me' stuff. you are using misogyny to stand out.

EATmum Thu 14-Mar-13 17:52:20

Sorry about the crappy experience you had swallowedafly. Sounds like a very toxic place to be and that you're well shot of it.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Thu 14-Mar-13 17:56:33

Oh saf, that's shit.


swallowedAfly Thu 14-Mar-13 19:15:14


i also don't buy this 'well if less than fifty per cent of workers are women we obviously won't see women being treated better'. black people, disabled people, etc will never be fifty per cent so should we just expect them never to achieve equality and decent treatment in the workplace?

just more women blaming xenia.

Xenia Fri 15-Mar-13 13:55:35

There is the supposed rule of threes... that once on a board you have three women not just one who is a token women people then start to see the women as individuals and not just the sex. You need a certain critical mass and gosh we are doing really well in getting that in all kinds of jobs. We just need that last little push now and encouragement to women not to give up work when mostly they regret it and really hate their lives as housewives with no money cleaning u p after babies and living off a man. They think they will love it but many threads on mumsnet shows it is rarely the path to happiness and ruins other women's chances at work too.

I have never said all women should take 2 weeks off to have a baby. I think the 6 weeks at 90% of pay is perfectly fair as women go through more than men and give birth. After that pay is so low most women cannot easily afford to take more time off and plenty choose to go back to full time work quickly and that can be best for everyone.

MoreBeta Fri 15-Mar-13 16:02:11

I heard of a woman in a high powered job that took NO maternity leave.

She took holiday leave for two weeks, answered client calls while in labour, gave birth and returned to work without mentioning she had taken a break to have a baby. As far as her firm and her clients were concerned she had been at work the whole time.

That would suggest someone who feared an adverse consequence from taking maternity leave.

flatmum Fri 15-Mar-13 16:36:44

Xenia I think you're over-estimating how well it's going

swallowedAfly Fri 15-Mar-13 16:59:09

morebeta - and a woman who knew the way to succeed was to be unlike other women and stand out as better, different, just like the boys. which is what these high achieving women (promoted by men as low risk of upsetting the applecart despite being female and no chance of any of that sisterhood nonsense) tend to be.

it's like neocolonialism worked.

MoreBeta Fri 15-Mar-13 17:34:31

SaF - I wasn't going to say it but basically don't even acknowledge you are a woman and dont acknowledge other women exist either or even acknowledge that there is a problem.

swallowedAfly Fri 15-Mar-13 18:05:57

and you'll do fine. and bolster their equality figures.


Xenia Sat 16-Mar-13 21:11:26

I don't think what I did was too different from the MoreBeta woman and why not? if you want to and can it can be a wonderful s9olution. There is no godgiven rule that you have to be ill when you have a baby or you have to spend a state required amount of months with the baby. Plenty of women like to work until they go into labour and come back very quickly. It works well It's nothing special. It is massively easier than being at home with 3 children under 3, much more restful, means you have no sexism at home and you don't lose money, win win all round. What is not to like?

MoreBeta Sun 17-Mar-13 08:13:01

While I think it is argueable that a whole year of maternity leave is too much for an employer to be expected to deal with I think pretending you haven't given birth just to keep your employer happy is not right in any sense.

Women only do it becasue they feel under pressure. It is not a good thing.

Xenia Sun 17-Mar-13 11:31:08

I think it's sexist though to say to a woman who actively wants to go back to work quickly that she is pretending she has not given birth. You can lean in or lean out or something in between but it's important men and women realise the consequences of those actions. i think some live in a fool's paradise on this topic.

Women do not only do it because they are under pressure. I was not pressured by anyone to take 2 weeks off. It is all I wanted or needed. Why should women be pressured to take months and months off if they don't want to? Men are not subject to the same pressure.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Sun 17-Mar-13 11:45:42

The length of maternity leave and the requirement that the woman takes the first half is partly to do with breast feeding targets, isn't it?

And yes, I know you managed to work and breast feed Xenia, but for me, even with very sympathetic bosses, expressing more than once a day at work would have had more impact on my work (scheduling meetings etc) than staying off for longer. If I worked in retail or something similar I'm sure it would have been even harder.

I'm fine about that, I took the unpressured decision to take six months and mixed-fed accordingly, but if I had planned to go back after six weeks I would have bottle fed from the start for sure.

OrbisNonSufficit Sun 17-Mar-13 12:20:06

Interesting. I've considered this (we are TTC at the moment), and talked to some of the more senior women that I trust in our company about it and their advice is Do Not Tell Them.

I'd like to be able to discuss it - I feel it would make my career planning conversations and their resource planning conversations more realistic and meaningful. But I know that it would inevitably lead to some level of discrimination (unspoken), so I don't.

Also there is obviously the timing issue. I could be pregnant this time next month, or it could take another 2 years, and I don't want it to be brought up at every talent review meeting that I might be imminently popping off for 6 months of mat leave - of course that will make them reticent about giving me a promotion or big opportunity. Similarly, I also intend to hide the bump when it happens for as long as I can - jackets and scarves!

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Tue 19-Mar-13 12:40:42

Am watching a CNN interview with SS right now. She makes a good point about Melissa Myers and how her decisions get looked at as "a female CEO's decision" whereas no male CEO's decisions would ever get described like that. (the specific issue was the ending of telecommuting at yahoo)

CultureMix Sun 31-Mar-13 02:09:41

The company I was with sold our division to another company when I was in very early stages of pregnancy and not prepared to announce it yet. We had an HR session for our team (about 20 people) to go through HR policies for the new company - of course maternity leave didn't specifically come up and as one of only two women in the team I didn't want to bring it up in public as that was rather waving a big red flag. Finally I met with the HR person separately and bundled it in with several other topics - pretty obvious I know but nothing else I could think of. He answered my questions and did not ask the obvious one himself.

It all worked out in the end, I moved from one large company to another and they had quite similar policies. In particular my years on the job carried through into the new company so I was still eligible for full maternity cover. Soon afterwards I was off for 3 weeks' Christmas holiday, the sale went through in January so I announced my news when I came back to work (at the new co) and it went fine. But I was lucky, could have turned out differently. It helped that I was still working with my old team so the work remained similar.

Bereavednanny Sat 13-Apr-13 16:30:49


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