Dear Tenured Mom,
I’m currently on the academic job market and pregnant. While the pregnancy itself is exciting and great news in my personal life, I’ve heard it can/will be frowned upon by hiring committees. When I was on the market last year, several committees asked me if I had kids, and I know being pregnant during interviews or asking for breaks to pump during campus visits will be a dead giveaway that I’m a mother. Do you have any experience being on the job market as a mother or being on a hiring committee and interviewing mothers? Have you seen hiring committees be biased against hiring a writer-academic who’s also a mom? Do you have any other advice for navigating the job search with a baby on board?
Mom on the Market
Dear Mom on the Market,
Firstly, congratulations on your happy news! But I have to say that what strikes me about your note immediately is the fear—that hiring committees could frown upon mothers. My initial response to you would be that schools are legally not allowed (in accordance with their non-discrimination policies, as outlined on their Human Resources websites) to discriminate against you as either a pregnant woman or new mother. At my current institution (a R1 state university), we receive rigorous training about what we are and are not allowed to ask job candidates. In addition, we’re told the following: “The university is subject to Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, Federal Executive Order 11246, Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), and all other rules and regulations that are applicable.” I think part of general fear on the job market has to do with the shortage of jobs. That you’d feel pressured to hide something so integral to your identity on the market—the fact that you’re a new mother—is a testament to how very bad the market is right now in creative writing (and in the humanities in general).
That being said (and the legal parts aside) I think that like anything else, some places will try to be accommodating about your needs as a new mother, and some places will not. Some places will have faculty that will ask you (illegal) questions they’re not supposed to, and others will not. I’d say that whether or not a place is accommodating or sensitive to your needs as a new mother during the job search might give you a good idea of how family-friendly a school is in general, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. For example, my department chair felt she wasn’t able to give me an extension on my job negotiations, even when I (unexpectedly) went into labor 2.5 weeks early during final negotiations, and got stuck in the hospital without internet for 5 days after major surgery (an emergency C-section). One of my colleagues intervened on my behalf, and got me an extension, but based on that experience, I would have thought my school would be terrible about things like family leave. However, the university where I currently work actually has really great parental leave policies, as well as policies for stopping the tenure clock for academics with children.
I think the nice thing about being on the market while pregnant (for me) was that it made me more relaxed—I was at MLA doing five interviews while I was seven months pregnant, and it was hard not to be of the mindset that while it would be great to get a job, I’ve got this other thing going on too, so a job felt a little less pressing than a baby on my diaphragm and bladder. Another upside was that faculty weren’t left to speculate on whether or not I’d be wanting to start a family soon after being hired.
I had one woman in an MLA interview start to ask me about how I thought I’d manage the job and a newborn, and before she got the “born” part out of her mouth, her colleague literally tackled her on the couch to get her to be quiet, as it was clearly an illegal question. But then during my on-campus visit at the job I have now, the colleague in charge of my job-talk introduction introduced me to the entire department as “being with child,” rather than actually reading my biography and accomplishments. I’ve had faculty, during job talks and interview visits, ask me how I get so much done when I have kids. I’ve had faculty ask me if I thought I could be happy in X town as a Jew, and other faculty ask me who takes care of my kids when I’m at artist colonies. I’ve had faculty ask me what I thought my husband would do for employment in their town (insinuating that they wouldn’t be doing spousal hires). Which is to say that people will ask illegal questions. I don’t know how others handle these. I use a combination of humor, frankness, and (occasionally) evasion. I will also say that as a poet who writes about my own life (including my family) much of the time, hiring committees feel like it’s fine to ask about these things since I myself address them in my poems.
Has the fact that I’ve been pregnant or had a family on the job market hurt me? I don’t know. I only know that this is my life, and my family, and if an institution doesn’t want me there because of them, then that’s not the right place for me, because I won’t spend my career pretending that I don’t have them. I will say that where I work, which is a rural university town, I believe that kids and families are viewed in a positive light, as we have a lower retention rate for single faculty due to the environs.
I do think there are many things anyone who’s pregnant on the market should ask about (as should anyone thinking of having or adopting a child at some point). These are questions that might be asked during an on-campus interview, but should definitely be asked after you receive an offer. You can ask Human Resources about some of these things (and often campus interviews include a meeting with an HR person); some places will tout some of these things up front, as a way to retain female faculty; and for the rest, you’ll need to find faculty members with small kids to ask (and my experience has been that if the department is trying to woo you, they will make sure this person drives you to the airport or takes you to lunch or otherwise interacts with you):
- Does the area have good schools?
- Is there affordable and available daycare? (This is the most critical thing, I’d argue, for any working parents unless you have a stay-at-home partner willing to do childcare.) And if there isn’t available daycare, is it fairly easy to find in-home childcare providers?
- If the university runs a daycare or lab school, can you negotiate a spot for your child into your offer?
- What kind of leave policies do they have for women who give birth? What kind of parental leave on the whole do they offer (for either parent)? (Many places offer 6-8 weeks paid leave for women who give birth, covered by short-term disability insurance. How schools handle this when your leave falls mid-semester varies wildly, and is something that should be asked about. Some places only offer unpaid FMLA. Still others offer additional course releases or family leave—so you can effectively end up with a full paid semester or year off, depending on the timing of when you give birth.)
- Also, are their policies for parental leave the same for parents who give birth and parents who adopt? (As a side note, even at my progressive university, the policies for adoptive parents are not equivalent to those of biological parents; as an adoptive parent, my paid leave was practically non-existent. If you are even remotely thinking about adopting, do ask about leave policies for adoptive parents.)
- Do they have course releases that you qualify for upon first arriving, for your initial semester, if you start your job with a newborn or infant?
- Do they have a stop-the-clock option for tenure if you have a child? Do people take advantage of this policy or is it tacitly frowned upon by the department or college?
- Do they require faculty to teach night classes (a real hardship if you have small children, though graduate classes at many institutions are offered at night)? Do you have some control over the times your classes are offered?
- Are you required to do a host of ‘service’ activities that could become difficult with a baby (e.g. attending many evening readings (student or otherwise), hosting receptions, driving visiting writers to the airport, etc.)?
- Are there other people in your department with small children? (This is not necessary, but is helpful—it means that someone before you has asked all of these questions recently.)
- Does the area have decent pediatric care and birthing options?
I do believe, though, that as long as women on the market feel they have to hide pregnancies, apologize for being mothers, or subsume their needs (bodily, or otherwise) to tone-deaf hiring committees, things will continue to be more difficult than they have to be for parents of either gender in academia. And in order for an institution to meet your needs as a new parent, you will need to articulate them in specific, unapologetic terms. I understand that as a person with some degree of privilege—I currently have a job and tenure—I can say all of this without fear. I would love to hear from other readers though. What were your experiences while pregnant and on the job market? What did schools do to make you feel welcome and comfortable? Conversely, what did other places do that made you feel uncomfortable and unsupported?
If you have a question for Moms on the Market, email them at LitMoms@VIDAweb.org Moms on the Market offer only occasional advice, so not all questions will receive a reply. Stay tuned & check the site for replies!