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.


Comments:
Dean Dad -- I realize this is hardly the point, since people don't have to say why they do or do not hire someone, bu isn't it illegal to discriminate against people because they are parents? Or ask them specifics about their family lives that might lerad to employment discrimination? Thus is always what we have been told at Zenith -- but maybe it's just an ethical position that has been taken at Zenith.

TR
 
I think Dean Dad is right on target with his advise. As a chair in a department that has replaced several retirees in the last few years we have interviewed a lot of candidates. The interviews that went best were those where candidates were open about their lives. It may be my colleagues, but I don't remember motherhood coming up in any discussion of whom to hire. Candidates who seemed to have big vita holes or who seemed to be secretive about their lives were seen as questionable by some.

Obviously it is your call, but presenting yourself as a professional who also is a Mom may well be a plus for many hiring committees.

One final thought. Do you really want a job where a big part of your life will be seen as a black mark?
 
I don't mean this comment to be snarky but off the top of my head, it strikes me that there may be other issues that impact your journey through the cc job interview process. It definitely depends on the field you're in but at least in my field, I've noticed that my cc basically NEVER hires folks who have been granted equivalency for full time positions, and are still in the process of achieving an MA-level degree. I don't know the specifics of your discipline etc. so I'm not sure if this is an applicable point.
I know that this probably really differs by discipline and institution but I just thought it might be useful to think about other issues that may impact your job search progress above and beyond being a mom.
 
TR -- yes, it's illegal to bring up family/marital status, but it's not illegal to ask about employment gaps on a c.v. When you couple a lengthy employment gap with multiple references to PTA's and the like, people will make inferences. I'd advise the candidate not to let the inferences fall where they may -- for precisely the reasons commenter 2 mentions -- but rather to take control of it.

That said, I agree that parenthood or non-parenthood really shouldn't be a criterion at all.
 
I've been debating whether to e-mail you about this very subject. My situation is a little different, since I'll have doctorate in hand when I go on the market, and no real gap in my c.v., but I've been told to keep my motherhood (and even my married-ness)a secret because it can hurt my chances.

I've heard that hiring committees can be scared by women of "child bearing age," (which is like, 15-45) because they might bear children, rendering them useless as academics, somehow. Would it not be better to come out and say, "You know all that stuff you liked on my c.v.? I did that while having kids. So no need to be scared about what I'll do when/if I have kids."? Plus my husband is in a very mobile, and very hot, non-academic field. So is it not better to tell them that I'm married to a man who can live anywhere than to have them speculate as to what might happen if/when I get married?
 
Some of the best faculty in our science department are mothers with school-age children, so it should be clear that (a) there was no prejudice against hiring them and (b) we would be happy to have more just like them.

Yes, it is illegal to ask any questions about marital or parenthood status, but it is not illegal for you to volunteer anything you wish. Always remember you are selling yourself, and only you can decide what will make an effective sales pitch. On the committee, it never comes up. Period. But vita gaps do come up.

What else comes up? We often ask a candidate (in interviews) what interests them about our college and our community. We want someone who wants to stay here, and anything (believable) you tell us in that regard is a plus. That applies equally to local applicants and out-of-town ones, by the way.

Concerning degrees in field: Don't even both applying if you don't meet the specific degree requirements listed in the ad. The first thing we do is sort out the applicants who don't meet that requirement. No equivalencies allowed for full-time positions, but "degree expected" with supporting transcript is fine.
 
At one institiution where I recently applied for a job they were more interested in me after they realized the good stuff on my CV was accomplished while I had two kids under the age of two at home. The department chair went out of his way to talk about his own kids and made a point of telling me that there were lots of other parents in the department. It made me very enthusiastic about the job.

I think you have to feel this one out - if people are openly talking about their own families during the interview process, that's a good sign. Also, while they can't ask you about your family, you can certainly ask them about theirs - casually so as to not tip your hand. You can also ask about the jobs of spouses to see what kinds of answers you get.

However, I would strongly encourage you to reconsider taking a job at a place where your life choices will not at least be tolerated. If having kids is de rigueur, you are likely to have problems dealing with all sorts of normal caretaking issues (caring for aging parents, a suddenly ill spouse etc.) and that is not a position I would like to be in.

Teaching gigs are great but if the school is not accomodating of your life situation, it will likely not be the kind of place you'll be happy long term. Better to find some other job where they will tolerate your "eccentricity" in having kids.
 
Maybe I'm working in a good, ethical place where common sense is the rule rather than the exception, but this entire discussion seems medieval, Victorian, coming-from a-different planet.

The majority of new full-time tenure-track hires in my SoCal cc
English department have been women "of childbearing age." Most of them even went ahead and had kids. So what?

When we hire folks, I like to think--and it's been mostly true--that we're looking for good teachers. Whether they happen to have a penis or the relative ripeness of their ovaries hasn't been a question. And it shouldn't be. Ever.

Philip
 
Having sat on three searches at a cc, I'd like to support the comment above about not applying for positions where you are lacking the required degree. That is the first thing I look at and I don't even get to the other stuff if they don't have the degree in hand.

That being said, I think you need to reveal only as much as you are comfortable. What I look for is a clear CV in which you explain your degree(s), teaching background and courses taken. Beyond that, I really don't care if you flipped burgers, were a corporate CEO or stayed home with kids. If it is non-academic experience, it doesn't matter nearly as much as your time in the classroom.

One way you could write your CV is to structure it by the courses taught, listing the schools and total number of sections per prep. If I see a thin teaching pattern over several years my question will be about how you plan to handle the large teaching load and not whether or not you have toddlers at home.

Also, it has been my experience that CCs are much more flexible places to work than almost any other institution. One of the reasons people take on the higher teaching load is that it allows us time for the rest of our lives.... it would be silly of us to object when you HAVE one of those lives :).
 
Thanks for replying to my question, Dean Dad. I also appreciate the suggestions and encouragement from the commenters. I feel much more comfortable knowing that the majority of this audience views motherhood as neutral, and I plan to be open about the reason for my employment gap. I like the idea of selling my ability to get many varied things done!

I’m glad someone brought up the issue of going on the job market without degree in hand (though expected before the following fall) because I was wondering about that too. As my field is closer to CCPhysicist’s than to InsideThePhilosophyFactory’s, I’m hopeful, but also prepared for the possibility that this round could be for practice.

PS Good luck on the family-friendly job, Ivory!
 
Anonymous:
I don't always link my blog (which includes contact information), but have done so here.

Anyone who knows the M/F ratios in physics, chemistry, and biology will not be surprised that we have quite a few excellent chemistry faculty who happen to be female parents, if that happens to be your field. If the department has a lot of women, you will fit in.

It also might be appropriate to remind everyone of Ms. Mentor at CHE:
http://chronicle.com/jobs/news/archives/columns/ms._mentor/
There are also articles about topics specific to the CC environment, such as
http://chronicle.com/jobs/2003/03/2003032701c.htm
and
http://chronicle.com/jobs/2004/01/2004011501c.htm
http://chronicle.com/jobs/2003/12/2003121201c.htm

That last one is first rate, including the information about job requirements and expectations.
 
It may be illegal to discriminate on the grounds of parental/marital status, but I have to tell you, I'll be SO happy if the next person hired in my department has no children (or only grown ones) and no plans to have any kids in the near future. There are at least two full-timers in our department who have ridden their recent pregnancies all the way to town, shirking their assigned duties every chance they've had. It's extremely frustrating to those of us in the department who are childless since we've either had to pick up the slack or just watch helplessly as these individuals are granted pass after pass.

I'd have no problem with the parenting if folks just DID THEIR JOBS and quit blaming their slacking on their kids. It'd also be great if these same individuals would quit yammering on incessantly about said kids and would NOT bring loud babies/toddlers into the office when their officemates are trying to hold meetings.
 
As a never-married single mom, I've encountered lots of moral judgment out there in the job market. I never, ever mention my family situation in any interview process. I was just hired as a full-time instructor (just finishing up the diss and will be asst. prof when it's done) at a cc and didn't say a word about being a single mom. I truly think it could have cost me the job if I had.
 
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