Should You Mention Your Kids In The Interview?
Being a new or soon-to-be parent comes with enough stress as is, so those who are juggling a job search on top of it all wouldn’t want anything to go awry in the interview process.
But unfortunately for women, being a parent comes with a high cost while on the job hunt. It’s called the “motherhood wage penalty.” Women with children are, as The New York Times put it, “less likely to be hired for jobs, to be perceived as competent at work or to be paid as much as their male colleagues with the same qualifications.”
It’s true. Stanford University researchers sent otherwise-identical men’s and women’s resumes to hundreds employers with only one slight difference: an added line about being a member of the parent-teacher association, hinting to employers that the applicant had kids. Women’s resumes with the PTA line were half as likely to be called back as women’s resumes without it, while interestingly, fathers were called back slightly more than childless men.
Employers appear to be biased towards hiring dads and against hiring moms.
In a similar study, different participants were asked what starting salary they would offer the job applicants if they were doing the hiring. The women whose resumes included the PTA line were offered on average $11,000 less than childless women, and a whopping $13,000 less than fathers.
Author Ann Crittenden originally coined the term “the mommy tax” to describe this socio-economic phenomenon that disproportionately hurts women’s long-term job prospects following the arrival of a child. But that framework only told half the story. Later, the “fatherhood wage premium,” was coined to describe the pay increase that tends to follow the arrival of a child in (most) men’s careers.
Whereas employers see dads as stable workers who are committed to providing for their families (and therefore more family means he requires more money), working moms are seen in a very different light. Working moms are presumed to be distracted, less reliable, and less committed to work. After all, if mom’s at work, who’s looking out for the little one?
We know all this is bogus, right? Working moms are demonstrably more efficient over the course of their careers than workers without children. Yet employers tend to hold women with children to a higher standard, nonetheless. One study found:
“Mothers were judged as significantly less competent and committed than women without children… Mothers were also held to harsher performance and punctuality standards. Mothers were allowed significantly fewer times of being late to work, and they needed a significantly higher score on the management exam than non-mothers before being considered hirable.”
But wait, you might be thinking, isn’t there good reason for bias against moms? Don’t they tend to scale back on work after the arrival of kids?
Researchers found that these biases persist even after controlling for factors like the hours people work, the types of jobs they choose, and the salaries of their spouses. The disparity in hiring and pay, therefore, isn’t due to the fact that women are working less or dads are working harder – it’s that employers expect them to. What we’re really dealing with here is much more simplistic: good old-fashioned discrimination.
So what’s a parent to do when the subject of kids and family come up in the interview?
Well, there’s a pretty compelling case in the data for women to keep the topic of kids off the table and for dads to flaunt their family. Already got male privilege going for you? Bust out the wallet photos of the little ones and you’re more likely to be seen as reliable and trustworthy.
My own man recently went as far as to mention our dog and very-unmarried me as his “family” when successfully negotiating a moving bonus for a new job. The line went over without his new boss batting an eye. Needless to say, he got everything he asked for.
But if you’re a woman? While it brings me no great pleasure to advise this, the data shows we’d be wise to keep the topic of family and kids out of the interview.
Sure, you don’t want to start off a new relationship with overt lies, but you do want to keep the conversation focused on the skills and dedication you’d bring to the job – not the personal life that employers might assume will distract you.
Here’s what to remember when asked about family or kids:
- Pivot to answer the underlying question the employer is really asking about: your availability and commitment to the position.
- If you’re pressed further, put the question back to them by asking as pleasantly as possible a follow-up query like, “Can you help me understand what you mean?” or “Is that an important consideration in your hiring decision?”
- Be sure to keep your tone friendly and facial expressions positive, though, because research also shows that any expression of anger does not help women in the interview process either (but surprise: it works for men!).
More often than not, employers are going to steer clear of explicitly raising the topic of kids to avoid opening themselves up to liability with The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). While it’s not entirely illegal to ask about marital or parental status, it is illegal to base hiring decisions on those factors, so it’s best that interviewers steer clear of the topic altogether.
As I always say, women shouldn’t have to contort reality to avoid being unfairly judged and held to a higher standard than our equally-qualified counterparts. But until public policy in America catches up with the majority of developed nations that have leveled the playing field with parental leave and affordable child care reform, we’re on our own.
If you’d like to hear more about how the fatherhood wage premium and motherhood wage penalty impacts workers of different classes differently, or the policy solutions that have successfully eliminated these biases in other nations, check out my latest episode of Stuff Mom Never Told You with my incomparable co-host, Bridget Todd.
Has the question of marriage and kids ever come up in an interview for you? How did you handle it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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