When to Mention the Kids

Posted February 23, 2018 6:53 p.m. EST

Q: When applying for my current job, I did not mention during the interview process that I was the mother of a 14-month-old child. I had a full-time child care arrangement compatible with the schedule for the position, but I of course wondered when and how my son would come up.

In one of our early meetings, before I had a chance to raise the subject, my boss made a passing comment along the lines of: “You don’t have kids yet, right?” When I told him I did, he seemed surprised — and I’ve gotten the impression he felt deceived. I wonder if I would have gotten the job had I disclosed I had a baby. But it was never an issue, my performance has been good and I was promoted.

I now have two young children, and I want to look for a job closer to home. I have gone on one interview so far, and told the recruiter that I have children. (He lives in my neighborhood and was speaking about his own child in our conversation, so not mentioning mine felt dishonest.) I did not get that job.

I’m reluctant to bring up my children in future interviews. I believe it will disadvantage me as a candidate in my field. What advice would you give someone in my position? — Brooklyn

A: It’s notable that despite your concerns, your minimal disclosure strategy actually worked out pretty well last time. Keep that in mind as you proceed.

You’re generally not obligated to disclose a thing about your parental status, and if an employer decided not to hire you specifically because you are a mother, that would run afoul of federal employment discrimination law.

Of course, it would also most likely be difficult to prove. There are lots of possible reasons your recent job interview didn’t result in an offer; most don’t. But if you’re really preoccupied with the possibility that your parental status works against you, keep it private.

That said — as I’ve discussed in past columns about disclosing a pregnancy, a religious affiliation or any other potential sources of discrimination — you might choose to address the subject based on the feel of any given interview process or the specific job opportunity.

Ask questions (and listen for clues) about the potential employer’s work culture: Does what you’re hearing mesh with your own work-life balance ideals? If the answer is ambiguous, and you think it’s to your advantage to be more explicit about your situation and the company’s attitudes, then do so. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

And if you’re not? Well, there’s little glory in landing what you thought was a dream job only to discover that in reality it’s a disastrous fit for your lifestyle.

So approach this as your decision — not as an obligation. And consider the experience you’ve already had: You speculate that your boss may have felt deceived, and might not have hired you if he had known about your child. Yet the reality is that it didn’t affect your performance or (given the promotion) your boss’s perception of your work. So raise the subject if you think it will help your own thinking about a particular opportunity. But remember that it’s your choice.

A Manager Obsessed With Email

Q: A new manager who reports to me has what seems to me an odd practice: He requires the seven people who report to him to copy him on every work email they send, no matter how trivial.

When I asked him if reading all these emails was a good use of his time, he told me he just skimmed them, and only during “off hours.” He has also asked people outside his department to copy him on emails they send to members of his group. Some have refused.

I’m concerned because this manager has had some difficulties getting his work done and his department has not been meeting its goals, so maybe he is not spending his time appropriately. Also, I worry that his staff is not being allowed to develop decision-making skills because it’s worried about being second-guessed. Your thoughts? — Anonymous

A: This email copying is a terrible idea! It’s almost a parody of micromanagement. Not only might it discourage decision-making skills, it probably makes his charges feel distrusted and insecure. And it almost certainly causes them to waste time writing every single email with this secondary audience in mind.

Get him to explain what he is trying to achieve with this absurd practice, and help him come up with new tactics. And refocus his priorities: He needs to be thinking about why his department isn’t meeting its goals, and how to fix that. In addition, if there are particular problems with his team, he needs to address those specifically. Sending a message that he doesn’t trust any of his workers enough for them to send even routine email without looking over their shoulders is never going to inspire the enthusiasm and loyalty he needs.