Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Marital Status and the Workplace

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen!  This week's topic is something I know my friends struggled with during the job hunt and during their employment:  marital status.  I will be discussing this from both the male and female POV.  After talking to several of my dude friends, I learned how marital status can shape how others view them at work.  I recognize that most employers are way too progressive to pull stunts like this, so the focus is on those few that cling to stereotypes.  Essentially, it comes down to this:  while some professional employers who adhere to stereotypical gender views prefer women who are single, they prefer men who are married or close to it.

First, the ladies.  During law school, most of my friends spent a good amount of time interviewing for summer associate positions in an effort to secure employment before graduation.  One night during a monthly girl's night, we started talking about our experiences in those interviews.  My friend brought up an intriguing question of strategy:  whether or not she should wear her wedding rings to interviews.  It never occurred to me before that moment, but it was then I realized it mattered.  OK, so we all know employers are not allowed to ask us if we are married, single, etc.  But if you wear a ring, they don't need to ask.  Sexist as it may be, the reality is that there are employers out there that will look at a woman with a wedding ring as a negative factor.  This goes back to traditional notions of family.  As progressive as we think we are, employers very well could look at that ring on a lady's finger, especially women in their mid and late twenty's, and assume that you want to have children and eventually leave your job because of it.  Now, you know as well as I do that women are more than capable of doing it all.  We can raise kids AND work!  Imagine that!  Doing more than one thing at once!

But all jokes aside, this can be reality.  One of my friends was threatened with termination if she got knocked up.  I noticed several county legal employers (who will remain nameless) looking at my left hand in interviews.  It is unfortunate that a symbol of your love and commitment to your partner may mean much more to a potential employer. 

But ladies, we are not alone in this.  I mentioned this problem while enjoying an evening with my gentlemen friends, and they were quick to point out that women are not the only ones to face this kind of stereotyping, they just get stereotyped in the complete opposite way.  From what I discussed with my male friends, employers desire male employees to be married.

For the gentlemen, it seems to work like this;  a married man is a settled, responsible, stable man.  A stable man means a stable employee who is not likely to leave.  Why?  Because unlike with women, employers may assume that a man will stick with his job to support his wife and/or children.  See how that works?  Same coin, different side.

The reality is that not all married women want children, and not all married men are the sole providers for their families.  I know several stay at home dads who are doing an excellent job.  For women who do want children, employers should have a little faith that we can handle balancing work and home.  And, as a family law attorney I will be the first to tell you that marriage does NOT automatically equate with stability.  

READERS:  I have questions for you.  Have you experienced this kind of stereotyping in an interview, whether it was explicit or not?  How did you handle it?  And last but most important, how can we as young professionals, female and male, help each other be viewed in terms of our professional capabilities  to those few who make the assumptions discussed?


  1. Though I only have a temporary fellowship, my employer (thankfully) encourages family leave and a number of women on our staff are pregnant or have recently had children. That said, I work for a nonprofit where, perhaps, having a family and work/life balance aren't frowned upon.

  2. I can't tell you how many times I have caught potential employers looking at my ring finger! Both when I have and have not worn my wedding ring. I am fairly certain it negatively impacted me at least once or twice.