Mentioning motherhood?

A reader just emailed with this query: When applying for jobs, should one mention maternity leaves? Should one’s references? This is a question that comes up often enough that I think it really merits some discussion. On the one hand, there’s plenty of evidence that mothers’ CVs are judged especially harshly (and this is about mothers, not parents: fathers’ CVs do especially well). But on the other hand, there are sometimes delays or gaps to explain. How can one weigh up the costs and benefits? Is there some way of mentioning motherhood that doesn’t trigger the negative biases?

4 thoughts on “Mentioning motherhood?

  1. Having just done some hiring in a UK university, I’ll say from the employer side we absolutely are not allowed to query about such things and the 2010 Equality Act specifically forbids discrimination based on pregnancy and maternity (i.e., it’s one of the 9 protected characteristics). So, from a legal point of view, I would think that mentioning it would 1) help explain gaps and 2) should trigger extra care not to ding you for those gaps since that would be tantamount to discriminating on the basis of maternity.

    But looking through the training materials I have, I don’t see any discussion of how that would go. I’d think similar issues would arise for many disability, as they also tend to leave gaps.

    I’m taking both a TEDI and a interviewing short course in the next few months…it will be “fun” to raise these issues. You would think there’d be specific guidance on how to reason about gaps.

  2. As I understand it, there is an implicit bias against all women that takes the form of assuming that they’re mothers or about-to-be mothers even when they are the farthest thing from that. If so, then you might as well explain the gaps and delays honestly, as your prospective employers probably have you pigeonholed as a mother anyway.

  3. Vexed business. When I went out on the job market, taking a 6 week old baby to the convention hotel, I not only paid through the nose to have him babysat in order to avoid letting anyone know that I had a baby–I took off my wedding ring, after having told my letter writers to avoid anything that might let out that I was married.

    Things may have softened up now, but it’s still scary. On the other side, when we consider applicants, any down time that’s unaccounted for send up red flags. Even if not accounted for it does. A few years ago we had a guy–an I mean male who had no work record for a year, and explicitly stated that he was out of work because he’d followed his wife to a job, it was still held against him. And he wasn’t shortlisted.

    Pessimistically, I’d bet that in the US, with our “employment at will” doctrine, where parental leave is not widely accepted, maternity leave would be held against you. Though I’d not sure whether it would be less or more bad than an unexplained gap in one’s employment record.

  4. There is an interesting twist to this: in the UK, having had a child will get you a reduction on the amount of publications you are meant to submit for the REF – an assessment of the departments research output. Scholars have to submit 4 papers, but you get a reduction of one paper for each child that you have made.

    So it can be good to mention your kids, as that means you might put in a higher quality REF. Only, though, if that weighs up against implicit bias. And noone knows how that trade-off goes…..

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