Monday, June 04, 2007

Ask the Administrator: Coming Out as a Mom

A faithful reader, who is also a Mom, writes (edited for anonymity):

I'll be going on the job market this year, hoping to find a full-time
position as a (her field) instructor at a cc. My question is how guarded to
be about the fact that I have children. I can't really hide it since I
stayed home full-time (for several years). Then I started teaching
part-time at our local cc, first in the (cognate) department since I had
a MS in ----, adding (her field) classes when I was granted equivalency. I
decided I really like teaching (her field) and returned to grad school for a
Masters in it, which I will be earning next May. I've heard such bad
things about employment decisions when the employers know you're a
mother. (I can't find any references right now, but I recall a recent
study that showed women with PTA experience on their resume were hired
at a lower rate and lower starting salary than the exact same resume
without PTA.) On the other hand, it's so obvious from my resume, even
if I do leave off my child-related volunteering.

I know they can't ask about family status, but they're only human, so
do you think cc hiring committees would care that one applicant is a
mother vs. another who's not? If so, should I leave off my
child-related volunteering (it's substantial and involves teaching and
leading). Should I mention the gap in my resume? If so, when and how?

As one friend said, would I really want to work somewhere that would
hold motherhood against me? No, but why do anything that could damage
my chances?

As a Dean who is also a Dad, I hear ya. And yes, it's different for Dads.

The references I've seen have suggested that parenthood humanizes men and ghettoizes women. That said, these are aggregate trends, rather than iron laws – they don't hold everywhere, and they're subject to change.

(The changes aren't always in the right direction. I once knew someone who managed a department for a municipal government. He mentioned that he came under pressure not to hire parents of young children, regardless of gender, to keep health insurance costs down. Insurance for a family of four costs more than insuring, say, an older couple. He agreed that it was offensive, but cost is cost.)

This is one of those awful circumstances where there's really no way to know the 'right' answer. If the cc is rural and/or in a location many consider undesirable, and you're a relatively young candidate in a hot field, the hiring committee may be much more concerned about flight risk than about parenthood. If anything, parenthood might suggest reduced flight risk, and therefore be appealing.

Judging by stats I vaguely remember on gender balance on faculties at different types of institutions, the 'cost' of motherhood is highest at the most research-intensive places, and lowest at the most teaching-intensive. Since cc's are really about teaching, you may not run into much of an issue at this level.

I'm proud to say that one of the areas in which I've actually made inroads at my cc is in hiring processes. Search committees have to commit to a set of criteria for any given position, and stick to those criteria in the first round of screening. (It gets squishier when you get to actual teaching demonstrations, obviously.) Parenthood is not a recognized criterion either way, and in my time here we've hired parents, including single Moms. That said, I couldn't help but notice that the cohort hired in the years before I got here was conspicuously Mom-free. Whether that was the result of coincidence (total numbers hired were quite low for quite a while), self-selection (the housing costs here are obscene, even now), or bias, I don't know. Maybe some of each, plus the inbreeding I may have mentioned once or twice.

Obviously, you have the option of stripping your application of any tipoffs, presenting yourself as an isolated professional, and simply compartmentalizing until tenure. There is something to be said for this strategy, though it does leave that gap in your employment history. I couldn't criticize anybody for trying this, but it wouldn't be my choice or my recommendation.

Since you asked, I'll recommend presenting yourself as the competent multitasking professional that you are. Own the truth, tell it without apology, and present yourself as the kind of busy person who can get stuff done. When you needed to take time off, you did. When you needed to get another degree, you did. You got that second degree while both teaching and parenting, which requires time-management skills (and stamina!) beyond many people. As a manager, that's the kind of faculty I'd love to have. If you want something done, ask a busy person, and you've been very, very busy. My nightmare isn't the professor who occasionally has to run home for a childcare emergency. My nightmare is the professor whose primary concern is doing as little work as possible. Just getting to where you are shows an impressive work ethic. Sell that, and sell it without apology. It's true, it's relevant, and you've proved it the hard way. If the college doesn't want that, I don't know what to say.

Good luck!

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.