Thoughts on politics: is it okay to ask a woman about her baby plans

It's the news story of New Zealand at the moment that the Labour party's leader, a woman, keeps getting asked what her baby plans are. The election is in September.

I've got a thought or two on this.

Some people are making a point that such a question matters. If she becomes the Prime Minister and then decides to have a baby, it's going to impact the country's governance. It's an important to ask her that question, they say, because it affects us all. It's okay to ask.

I disagree.

At the moment, if a company is recruiting for staff and it turns out that an applicant is planning to very shortly become a mother and take maternity leave, it impacts the prospects of the company and it certainly impacts that applicant's chances of becoming an employee.

Some people even go as far as to say, why should a company bear the burden of not knowing what people's family plans are and then having to look for new, temporary employees whilst people take parental leave?

Sure, okay, I get that. When people leave to take parental leave, it costs companies money.

But why should women bear the burden?

If it were legal to ask that question during a job interview, and a woman kept being rejected from a job after job after job because she answered honestly that, yes, she would like to become a mother, thanks - then it would be the woman taking that burden. And that burden's not pretty, because being jobless and on welfare is not pretty, especially given the poor quality of housing stock and a lack of state housing.

The reason it's not okay to ask that question is NOT because it doesn't affect companies and governments - of course it does - but because asking that question puts undue and unfair pressure on people who happen to have wombs inside their abdomens, and ovaries.

When New Zealand becomes a place where a woman has decent chances regardless of what her family plans are, it will become okay to ask her that question.

Until then - no, it's not okay to ask.

10 comments:

  1. What if both men and women were equally likely to be asked about their family plans and answering "yes, I intend to become a parent soon" would equally (although considerably) affect their chance of being hired? Under those circumstances, would it be ok to ask?

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    1. Can you please explain your question more. IF asking men would considerably affect their chance of being hired? As in, IF men had a womb they carried a child in and were the ones who physically dealt with the birthing process? Not sure what the question is..

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  2. I am thinking of a hypothetical situation where candidates of both sexes were equally likely to be denied a position due to becoming a parent. I am not really taking into account the reason for why this likelihood is equal. (I suppose extreme bioengineering is an option but legal requirements or social conventions seem more realistic.)

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    1. That's a good question. I'll have to think about that :)

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  3. I think it's perfectly okay to ask. People can ask all sort of things. But the right answer should be: I am not commenting, because it's not relevant to the job.

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    1. Well I was thinking about it yesterday, too, and... I still think, not.

      Because if it's okay to ask - and I mean asking *in a job application process*, not, like, in a social conversation - then knowing that it's okay to NOT answer becomes the applicant's responsibility.

      I think it'd be unfair. Job interviews can be awkward and hard enough (especially if applicant is applying for something where they aren't really significantly better than anyone else - think retail assistant, or a night cleaner, something along those lines) that there is no need for the added pressure of asking someone "Are you planning to have children in near future?" and the applicant having to know that it's okay to say, "Sorry, I'm not going to answer that, it's not relevant."

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    2. I agree there should be some rules when it comes to questions during job interview, but in this case it's more journalists who ask those irrelevant questions, and who want more out of the situation to make a story. Of course if it's a job interview, there should be a bit more professional approach, but even then there can be some idiot asking questions, what are not appropriate or relevant. But knowing which questions to answer and which not to, shows that person applying for the job, knows her/his standards. Which is obviously good thing even for the contractor.

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    3. Tinker, but in this case it's not just an interview with a woman - it's a woman campaigning to become a prime minister. When she's asked what her baby plans are, it's asked in terms of how it'll affect her job as a prime minister and whether she'll manage to do her job if she decides to have a baby at the same time.

      (By the way, she answered it beautifully, but that's beside the point at the moment.)

      "...if it's a job interview, there should be a bit more professional approach, but even then there can be some idiot asking questions, what are not appropriate or relevant."

      Agree entirely. However, SOME questions need to be regulated/prohibited, because if they aren't - like the baby question, which fortunately, and as far as I'm aware, is not legal to be asked during a job interview, just like it's not allowed to ask the person's sexual orientation, or their marital status - then it puts undue pressure and responsibility on the applicant.

      "But knowing which questions to answer and which not to, shows that person applying for the job, knows her/his standards. Which is obviously good thing even for the contractor."

      Some employers see confidence as a positive thing, yes. The jobs I'll be applying for in near future probably will be like that, as have been some jobs I've had in the past.

      However, not all employers want confidence. Some outright see it as a problem. Some want hard-working, compliant employees who do as they're told and don't complain, and don't argue - and I would argue that those jobs are of the lower-paying, lower-qualification kind where people who apply for them are already for one reason or another disadvantaged - otherwise they wouldn't apply for them.

      I've worked in jobs like that. I was let go from a bakery when I pointed out to the manager that their salad spinner did not get proper wash and had mould in it, and that employees were handling pies with oven gloves that never got washed. (Among other things - it was a long story.) He didn't want an employee who thought with their own head - he wanted a person who did what they were told, quickly, and for minimum wage. I wasn't that kind of a person.

      I worked at a vineyard in Blenheim were employees were paid below minimum wage. I didn't argue - I needed somewhere to work, and that job provided me with that money - but another girl from Hungary did, and was let go.

      I worked at a broccoli farm where a broken machinery spread pesticide and herbicide on top of the soil - rather than in it - making us breathe in the dust. The farmer did not want us complaining - he wanted the broccoli planted.

      What I am trying to say is: as much as replying, "Sorry, I'm not going to answer that - it's not relevant" with a confident smile is the good thing to do, it's unfair to presume that kind of employee-generated self-confidence from across the working sector, and especially in *some* low socio-economic occupations where there can be enough exploitation as it is.

      It's the reason there already exists paid parental leave, and various other social programmes - because as much as it would be good to not need them, the capitalist market on its own doesn't protect social wellbeing, especially not on the community level.

      I appreciate you taking the time to discuss it though. It's an important conversation to be had!

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  4. Yes, it is important :) And discussing such ideas are definitely a step (even if it's a baby step) closer to equal rights. Not only rights between women and men, but between all people.
    I just googled and those are the questions which are not allowed to ask during job a interview:
    -Age.
    -Race, ethnicity, or color.
    -Gender or sex.
    -Country of national origin or birth place.
    -Religion.
    -Disability.
    -Marital or family status or pregnancy.

    So, the last one covers the topic: It's not okay to ask anyone about about having kinds. At least in job a interview.

    But I think if journalists ask this questions during campaign and elections, it's considered as freedom of speech and there is no legal way to stop asking them such questions. Or is there? (You got me thinking now).

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    1. "But I think if journalists ask this questions during campaign and elections, it's considered as freedom of speech and there is no legal way to stop asking them such questions. Or is there? (You got me thinking now)."

      Oh, I wasn't actually meaning that it should be ILLEGAL for journalists to ask - because once it gets into curtailing what they CAN ask, then it's a mess of democracy looming.

      But what I meant was, I don't think it's OKAY for them to ask. That they should recognise that putting such a story out there is, essentially, doing what we as a society have decided is not okay, and that is to bring people's baby plans into the equation of campaigning/applying for a job.

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