Ask Belle: Mommy-Related Career Advice

Jan 23, 2013

Hi Belle!

I have a question for you. I am in the process of looking for a new job, in a new town, now that my life has finally calmed down after a campaign. On top of that, my husband and I are a little anxious to start a family. So, unlike previous years when I would look for jobs, I actually care now about the work-life balance and would love a “mommy-friendly” environment. Are there any good ways to find out during an interview how “mommy-friendly” an office is? 

Thanks! S

While I am single and childless, I appreciate how important it must be to know that your future employer will be supportive of your plans if you’re looking to start a family.  But broaching the subject is something that needs to be handled with care, we’ve all heard the horror stories about women not being offered jobs because they were pregnant or newly married.  

If it were me, I wouldn’t bring it up in the initial interview.  Instead, I’d ask if the employer would allow you to talk to some current employees about the work that they do and whether they like working for the company.  Usually, employers will give you the names of one or two people who you can talk to about the business.

I would ask these people a few questions about the environment, the nature of the work, the clients/employer and then ask about your other co-workers.  What is the average age?  Do they have families or are they single?  Is the employer accommodating to people who have families (picking up from daycare, working late, etc.)?  The answers to these questions should give you most of the information you need.

If you are called back in for a second interview, I would consider asking for more information about salary and benefits.  This will give you the opportunity to ask about healthcare, time off and maternity leave policies.  That shouldn’t raise too many red flags, and if it does, you probably wouldn’t want to work there anyway.

That’s my two cents, but I know that there are a lot of women out there who are mothers who might have some better/more specific advice for how to discern whether the business is “mommy-friendly.”

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  1. joyce says:

    As someone who had three of her four children while working for the government and now is in charge of final hiring decisions for an office of a government agency in the 105 employee range, I have strong thoughts about this. I encourage my employees to take longer than usual maternity leave and my male employees to take paternity leave. I do this because I think it's good for them personally and makes them better, more loyal employees in the long run. I'm explicit about this with new hires and people in my office don't hesitate to discuss it in the hiring process. My predecessor, also a woman, grudged every day over about two weeks a woman took off. The topic wasn't openly discussed. So I would say, raise it. You're a women of “that age” — the hiring panel, if they are so inclined, are going to think about it whether you raise it or not. So acknowledge you may start a family at some point in the next decade, and ask what the office culture about child rearing is. You'll get some interesting information, probably not all of it contained in the direct answer to the question.

  2. Mel says:

    Caveat – married but childless here.

    When I looked for jobs, some of the things I look for is (1) if there is a reputation for the company regarding work like balance. If they mention it 30 times, it is probably a crappy rep. (2) Number of women working there. (3) Number of parents working there (you can tell by the pictures in their office). (4) the industry (no profits and gov pay less but are more flexible).

  3. Meghan says:

    In addition to Belle's advice, Corporette and Ask A Manager probably have these topics (or some along this vein) addressed in their archives. Good luck, OP!

  4. shilpi says:

    I agree with Belle — definitely don't mention your desire to have children during an initial interview. I have friends who were pregnant (though not showing) who didn't mention it. I used to not even wear my rings during the first interview.

    So, I'm in a similar position timeline-wise (thinking about possibly having children soon) and, though i know she's kind of controversial, I really like what blogger Penelope Trunk has to say about women and work.

    One of her take-aways is that it's really good to be in a position where you have a lot of power and control at work when you are trying to create work-life balance. When you have less control at work (are more of a subordinate) you will have less control over your schedule. Though its a little counterintuitive, women shouldn't take roles that feel less powerful in the hopes that that means they will be able to be less engaged at work. More power= more freedom, more ability to get things done when you need to and leave when you need to in the afternoons, or whatever the case may be.

    this is more of a long-term strategy, but i've taken it to heart over the last couple years and it's made a concrete difference in my work decisions.

  5. Lynn says:

    In the first place, what you are looking for is life-friendly, not mommy-friendly–ugh. I get what you are saying, but you don't really want to work for a place that gives breaks to parents at the expense of non-parents, do you?

    Anyway, I am a mother of two. The ideal environment is one that has some sort of teleworking possible, ie laptops, cell phones, etc so you can continue work in the evening after the kids are in bed to make up for anything that happened during the day. You might also want to take note of what fathers do in the company–can they leave to take care of kids without it being frowned upon? Trust me, if it looks like they only favor mothers, it isn't good in the long run–it's usually just a front and you will never get ahead!

  6. Sam says:

    I just was in the same position. I had worked on the Hill for almost 6 years, but my husband and I decided to start a family and I found out that my Hill office didn't provide any maternity leave. To me, this just wasn't doable. I then started looking for lobbying gigs. I found a job that I reallly wanted, and didn't tell them I was 15 weeks pregant until there was an offer on the table. At this time, I told the President my news before I accepted the offer. He was elated. Said congrats and that he loved kids, and I would find most of my coworkers do. He told me he'd give me as much time off after the baby as I needed. Now that I'm settled in my new job….My advice is to get a job first, then start trying to have a family. Looking for a job while pregnant is doable, but I do feel a little guilty of taking advantage of my new company within 6 months of employment. I hope this helps.

  7. AR says:

    I am also single and childless but went through interviews/call backs at a number of large law firms two years ago. One thing I looked for (and something that was not at all consistent across firms) was how many women were in senior positions and how many of those women had children (especially small children).

  8. Marie says:

    Belle, I am also in my 2nd trimester. Can you show us some cute and afordable options for women who are trying to hide their baby bumps? I'm normally a size 6/8 and currently wearing size 10/12 clothing but I don't want to invest in too many expensive workclothes that I'll only wear for a month. Advice?

  9. Amy says:

    Obviously the letter writer doesn't want to end up at a place where employers discriminate against married or pregnant/parenting women, but I'd also like to point out that the practice of asking a candidate about his or her marital status, pregnancy, or parental responsibilities (or discriminating for hiring on the basis of these traits) is highly illegal. Sadly it happens anyway, but we should advocate for change, and certainly any legal remedies if they are available.

  10. Belle says:

    Amy: It is illegal, but it's exceptionally difficult to prove. I'm not sure you can write the law to change that aspect.

    Marie: I know nothing about that. But Capitol Hill Barbie does, if you check out her blog or send her an email, she could recommend something.

  11. Amy says:

    I agree it is hard to prove, and there are slowly changing legal constraints. I work in antidiscrimination law, though, so I always need to point it out. I also recommend that women interviewing at a workplace ask current employees about promotions and raises, and whether these are biased by discriminatory practices (e.g., women who have taken maternity leave are passed up for promotions despite stellar performance).

  12. smith90 says:

    It's an older post – but there was a great discussion about career planning and planning for babies on It doesn't specifically address the reader's question about finding out if an office is mommy-friendly. However, the discussion is fascinating to anyone who has dealt with these issues.
    The future is uncertain – so does it make sense to choose a job based on its mommy-friendliness? What if kids never happen, then you find yourself in a less-than-ideal job – or worse, a job you hate? Several commenters also noted that it is better to focus on being a top performer or star at your job. Then you may be in a better position to negotiate for what you want/need when/if you become a parent.

  13. Kathy says:

    This is an adult problem that affects everyone in society. Please don't call it “mommy” specific. It gives half the population an excuse to not pay attention and makes you sound twee.

  14. Kim says:

    The best advice I ever received is don't plan for future events out of your control. If you receive your dream job but it doesn't seem parent-friendly, don't necessarily turn it down. You don't know what will happen – you might not be able to get pregnant easily, or at all, years of birth control might slow down your timeline, or a need for hormones, or miscarriage (very common). Also you might be a good worker and gain flexibility.

    Think about what is parent-friendly about any company or its location. There's a huge range – flexible start and end hours, telecommuting, a reduced emphasis on face time, proximity to your house, daycare and the doctor, being able to use vacation days, the time/ability to work out during lunch, weekend work. I second Lynn's comment about favoring mothers – you're not looking for mommy-friendly, you're looking for work-life balance or flexible policies that everyone takes advantage of, lest ye be stigmatized. Your husband will also need these same policies.

    Marie – I had a baby 8 months ago. Target and JC Penney have cheaper maternity clothing; even Corporette suggests it. Hiding a baby bump works for only so long no matter what your size. But for now, looser fitting tops and blazers of any type will do the trick; luckily looser fit an unbuttoned blazers are fashionable! I also wore a-line dresses with a full skirt. Good luck!

  15. BTDT says:

    Ok. First thing, don't take advice from those who haven't BTDT. I'm a mom of two, both of whom I've had since I've been at my current job where I knew I would be pregnant within months of joining for my first. I asked about maternity leave during my interviewing process, against advice of people who had worked at the firm before. I have been promoted to two different levels that meant I was the first mom of childbearing age to move to that position and then to move to the next level beyond that which i had to work with my organization to create in the first place.

    To temper my next comments, note that I was trying to hire a senior level person for a position and she was just out of her first trimester. It didn't matter to me (and I knew I would have been just a trimester behind her). But to my HR person, they actually noted the pregnancy status as a reason to consider not hiring. Not only is that illegal, it just felt extremely wrong to me because I knew this was someone who would be successful in the role. We made the offer, she played it with her current employer, and stayed with them given their counter offer. Sometimes, pregnant or not, that's how it goes. I won't discredit her for that.

    I turned down an opportunity before my second because it wouldn't be fair to the Hill office. But more importantly, it wouldn't have worked for my family. Yes, I am making future family decisions to be accommodative of what I think my, and my family, can accommodate for that type of job move.

    So. Yes, it is very important to understand your organization. It is more important to be very, very good at what you do. Your value to your organization is extremely important. So is your value to your customers. You need to be sure that your pregnancy is not a burden to anyone but you. You will be tired, you will have complications, you will need leave. But please, please, do not turn pregnancy into some special medical status until it becomes an actual accommodatable medical status. If your boss is a jerk, then they are a jerk, and that is what you need to find out in the interview. But that has nothing to do with how the organization treats you as an individual, and your status as an individual does not change simply because you are pregnant. If you let it, then women are not equal and deserve special status and considerations. To bury the lead, that approach would be supremely anti feminist.

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