Sarah: Your Boss Wants to Know About Your Family Planning
Last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Facebook COO and one of Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business Sheryl Sandberg attacked gender stereotypes in the workplace, specifically as it relates to women having children. Sandberg has been an advocate for changes that would accommodate a better work/life balance so women would be less likely to feel as if they have to choose between career and family.
I myself am no stranger to this type of situation. A few years ago, during a high level interview, I was asked by the male CEO of a particular company how long I had been married, if I planned to have children, and if so, when I planned to have them. Knowing that this direct line of questioning was essentially illegal, I did my best to be diplomatic but ambiguous. I actually had no intention of having children, but my none-of-your-damn-business side kicked in and there was no way I was going to divulge my family planning (or more accurately, NOT planning) to this guy.
He regaled me with tales of having to deny his young children when they asked for “just one more hug” before he left for the office in the morning, hinting that I would be unable to handle such a situation and therefore my job performance would suffer acutely. The man was condescending, bigoted, and looking back, I wonder how a female of childbearing age ever got that far into the interview process to begin with. At the end of the interview, I told him not to work too hard and left chuckling down the hallway.
Having to choose between work and family is not every woman’s problem. I know lots of caring and nurturing women who have chosen not to have children because of other priorities. And I know plenty of intelligent and innovative women who have chosen to be stay-at-home mothers. But what about the women who want to be able to balance career and a family?
Right now there is a real problem within companies across America. Women who are valued by their colleagues and managers are suddenly viewed much differently the moment they become pregnant. Until that changes, many women will continue to feel as if they have to choose between a fulfilling career and a fulfilling family life.
Sheryl encourages a different type of conversation between employee and employer; one that is more honest, allowing for women to get help navigating through the transition and for the company to make plans accordingly. The idea is that both parties benefit. Could it be a win-win or would employers use it as a way to legally discriminate?
What do you think? Have you ever been treated differently in the workplace because of your gender or family choices?
Interested in hearing more from Sheryl Sandberg? Her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead is available for pre-order on Amazon.