The Question:

During interviews before being hired or meetings before being promoted, why does a woman’s marital status or her plans for motherhood become a deciding factor?

This takes me back to a time in the 1990’s when my children were aged 10 and 12.  I had decided to return to the workplace and was looking for office, secretarial or receptionist work.  I saw an advert in the local newspaper for a dental receptionist, and as I lived quite near to the surgery I decided to pop in and ask for an application form.

The receptionist working there at the time looked close to retirement.   She went to speak to the dentist, who came out to talk to me.  He was very apologetic, but stated that he never employed women of childbearing age, as they often had to take time off to care for sick children.  I was dismayed, but determined to soldier on and find somebody who could use my organisational skills.  It took me another 2 years to find any work!

Nowadays potential employers in the UK cannot ask if a woman is pregnant or intends to have children.  This was taken advantage of by somebody I once knew who attended an interview for a hospital consultant post.  Nobody knew that she was pregnant at the time, but she disguised the telltale bump by wearing a big coat.  She was given the job, worked for 2 weeks,  and then promptly went off for 15 months maternity leave!  The head of the department was furious.

When I worked at the same hospital as a medical secretary, all the secretaries with the exception of one were past childbearing age.  That certainly tells you something, doesn’t it?  What with it taking over 2 years for me to find work as a younger woman with 2 children, it tells me that on the whole, employers prefer to hire women whose children are grown up, and that older women are seen as being more reliable.  In fact I could never have held down a job when my youngest son was small, as he had a fever and throat infection about every 3 weeks until surgeons eventually removed his tonsils.  I was backwards and forwards to various hospitals with both of them for years for petit mal, heart VSD investigations, and removal of tonsils, adenoids, hernia repairs, and grommet insertions (both are hale and hearty men now with no problems).

A man usually earns more than his female partner (of course there are exceptions), is usually the main breadwinner, and therefore the family are dependent upon his salary.  This dependency makes a man less likely to want to take time off to look after a sick child, and so it usually falls to the child’s mother if there are no willing grandparents.  A mother with children more often than not works part-time, and therefore her job might be considered less important.  It was ever thus, and probably always will be.

P.S  Yes, I know there are exceptions, but I’m just talking generally…!