Those were the actual words out of the mouth of a recruiter for a large, well-known firm, whilst trying to recruit me for a role a few levels below my experience.
Actually, that’s a shortened version. The full line he gave me was “Are you not expecting a drop in salary and level anyway since you’ve been on maternity leave?”.
I firmly told him no, I certainly wasn’t expecting a demotion as a result of taking one year out of the workplace to have a child (?!?).
He swiftly moved on, recognising from my tone that what was in his head probably shouldn’t have come out of his mouth.
But that is the problem – it’s what he believed. There was no intended malice, it wasn’t a negotiating tactic as far as I could tell, he just genuinely assumed that because I had a period away from the workplace, no matter how short, that my expectations would have naturally lowered.
In the minds of some, women seem to somehow mysteriously lose all remembrance of their degrees and MBA’s and hard fought years of experience as soon as they step away from their desks.
One of the options I had to tick (couldn’t not tick) was whether I was the ‘primary carer of a child/children under the age of 18
There is so much advice out there, including on this site, about how to prepare for a return to the workplace when you’ve been out of it for a time – how to interview, how to prepare mentally, how to frame your flexible working request if that’s what you need.
But what if my encounter with that recruiter wasn’t just an isolated incident? What if there are more people out there who, consciously or unconsciously, believe the same as that recruiter?
Turns out, there are lots.
“I remember when I was about to go on maternity leave with my eldest I had to phone HR to query the holiday days that I’d be accruing”, says *Sarah. “They were trying to fiddle me out of 1.5 days – not the end of the world but it was the principle of it. The male HR officer said to me “You’re making a lot of fuss over this. You’re already going to be having a year off as it is.” I was so shocked, I didn’t know what to say.”
When I interviewed at a major tech company I was asked if I had ‘children to feed at night’
It gets worse.
“Someone from my City network made a point of ringing me about a project manager role with German and French at a renowned City LLP last Saturday so you can imagine my delight. The job spec turned out to be one of those where everything fits so my hopes grew”, recounted *Karen.
“On Monday night I finally found time to lodge the application and found to my express horror that one of the options I had to tick (couldn’t not tick) was whether I was the ‘primary carer of a child/children under the age of 18’.”
“My heart really sank to the point that I almost abandoned the application as it seemed like such an upfront death sentence (if you answer it truthfully) and as usual I was too truthful and ticked the box as ‘yes’ and the rejection e-mail came pronto on Thursday morning. Should I have lied just to get through the door? I had never seen this asked so explicitly and I am wondering what is the purpose of this question other than saying ‘we cannot be bothered with busy mums’?”
And then this.
“When I interviewed at a major tech company”, said *Kate, “I was asked if I had ‘children to feed at night’. The whole process was so biased that I complained but despite my complaint being taken “seriously” I never heard from them again.”
We need to consciously and with gusto and energy talk about our experience, our ability and the reasons why we are the right person for the job.
How can we prepare ourselves for these types of attitudes? And more importantly how can we move the conversation along and ideally avoid getting into them in the first place.
According to Lisa Unwin, Author of She’s Back and active lobbyist on behalf of women looking to get back into the workplace after a career break, if we want anything to change we need to keep shouting about it.
“We need to consciously and with gusto and energy talk about our experience, our ability and the reasons why we are the right person for the job. Why and how we will add value; the social capital we are bringing to the table as well as all those years of experience.”
So I’ve decided to contact a senior HR Director from the company, tell them about the conversation and explain (do I really need to?) how inappropriate and offensive their recruiters assumptions were.
Will that call move the dial? No.
If enough of us do it will it effect change? Only one way to find out.