“Do you want kids?”... and why it’s not a great move to ask this question in an interview
I’m a woman in my mid-thirties who has an MBA from London Business School and an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering. I co-founded a business that made enough money to give me a small amount of career freedom, and right now I’m lucky enough to have a job that I love in a London-based tech VC fund. I’m not a Forbes 30 under 30 or a standout player in VC, yet, but I certainly don’t feel ashamed of my career and I’m likely to be ‘ahead of the curve’ for the average person in the UK with the same number of years’ work experience.
Since I hit 30 I’ve been asked in over half of the job interviews I’ve attended whether I plan on having kids and/or if I’m single. The question has never been prompted by my leading the charge in talking about my personal life – it’s always been instigated by the interviewer.
NB Notion did not ever ask me anything of the sort – they asked me questions about my career motivations, skill level and cultural fit.
In my role as Head of Talent, part of my remit is to take a view on employment topics. So here are some of my views on why it’s not ideal to ask this question at interview (aside from the fact that it’s illegal):
You’re missing out on the A Players
“A-players possess the rare combination of drive, intelligence and pride in their work that is above and beyond the norm. They don’t associate their names with anything short of excellence.” – Jon Soberg writing for Venture Beat.
A-players aren’t usually short of job offers, and they’re pretty much always looking for a next career move into a business that shows nothing ‘short of excellence’. Asking sensitive questions about personal life at interview shows a slapdash approach that’s bordering on (if not fully landed in) illegal practice. Why would an A-Player settle for that?
It’s your fiduciary duty to not have to ask the question in the first place
As a business leader, you have a legal duty to offer statutory minimum maternity leave. You have a fiduciary duty to have enough runway to sustain the financial success of your business so that you can return value to your shareholders. These are not separate points – if you can’t offer statutory minimum benefits to your staff whilst having enough runway to sustain the business, you need to look at the management of your cash flow, not your hiring process.
This isn’t just about maternity pay, it’s about all forms of benefits.
“Anyone, male or female, stupid enough to break the rules on this one by asking this question at interview should be forced to be pregnant for a month” – Chris Tottman, father of 4.
It’s a closed question
Closed questions don’t get the most out of the candidate and your job as an interviewer is to have enough skill and interest in the business to help the candidate expose their full potential.
“Are you thinking of having kids in the next few years?” “No”
“Can you use Excel?” “Yes”
“What’s your relationship status?” “Single”
“Can you write Python?” “No”
None of these are questions that allow the candidate to show their full potential, regardless of the subject matter. If you’re asking closed questions as the basis for your hiring decisions, you likely need to rethink your approach to make the most out of limited interview time.
“Asking women if they want kids doesn’t necessarily get the most out of the interview process. Asking a more open ended question like ‘What do you worry about the most?’ will likely get the candidate to open up about how they balance their work and personal lives, without making family choices the focus” – Gia Scinto, Head of Knowledge & Talent Network for Y Combinator
One final thought
I’m fully aware that very young businesses operate close to the wind when it comes to cash availability. I don’t have an unrealistic notion that bringing a six-figure salaried woman into the business, when she’s in her mid-thirties, is not a risk to the average early stage venture.
But in early stage startups we don’t bring senior people in as employees, we bring them in as partners who are taking a leap of faith and we usually encourage them with an equity interest rather than cash. The women I know who are really fully committed to the partnership of joining a startup will initiate the conversation about maternity leave with their co-workers when the time is right; they’ll be happy to have an open and professional dialogue about how to make it work for all parties. If you’re bringing people into your business who won’t operate with this level of integrity, why are you bringing them in at all?
“I couldn’t agree more with your blog” – Jonny Biggins, Founder at The Book of Everyone and creative brain behind 3 Pregnant Dads