THE BLOG

Is It Ever OK to Ask About Parental Leave in a Job Interview?

24/02/2015 14:04 GMT | Updated 22/04/2015 10:59 BST

When I first joined Enterprise Rent-A-Car, I was upfront about the fact that career and family were both high priorities in my life and didn't feel afraid to ask about the company's maternity leave policies in my interview. Now that I'm HR Director for the UK and Ireland, I can say with confidence that this open and honest conversation didn't hold me back one bit. However, even in this day and age people still think I was quite outspoken.

Men and women alike shouldn't fear being this frank in their interviews as this kind of conversation can be beneficial for both employers and employees. Good employers recognise that their people will want to have a family - it's a fact of life! And who wants to work for a business that has doubts about you just because you want to have kids some day?

However, in reality it just doesn't happen like this. In a recent survey we conducted on the topic, 71% of UK employees aged 20 - 28 who were planning to have children said they hadn't asked about parental leave policies during job interviews. Even worse, more than a quarter had gone as far as lying about their plans to have children in order to seem more attractive to a potential employer.

Recent legislation has introduced shared parental leave but women are as worried as ever about the impact of parenthood on their job and still believe having children will affect their career progression.

And it's no wonder, given only less than a quarter of UK employees think the reforms will result in women being viewed more favourably by employers. Meanwhile, more than half of recruiters confessed that women of childbearing age are still discriminated against. The reason? They might decide to start a family.

But now men can join in the anxiety because they can also ask for their share of parental leave. Our research showed that a third of respondents felt reforms would negatively impact men. Is shared parental leave just going to turn discrimination against women into discrimination against families? Should men also keep quiet about plans to start a family?

It doesn't need to be like this. The reality is that both men or women will need at some point to take some kind of career break to care for children, and it's better to have upfront conversations about it. Employees can be realistic about how having a family will affect their work and they do have the option to choose a company that will embrace their aspirations throughout their career.

Shared parental leave could become an important step forward in achieving equality in the workplace. But we need to eliminate the scepticism. Changes must come from the top, with support and commitment from senior leaders and managers - but this must also lead to openness from potential employees. At the moment these employees still feel pessimistic about the parental leave reforms - not surprisingly as there is clear evidence from our research that discrimination persists.

Work is needed to be sure that diversity policies initiated at board level actually end up having the impact that they should as they are translated down the hierarchies. Organisations will only be able to get the best out of all their staff by having honest and constructive conversations about shared parental leave. This is the right way to increase engagement and loyalty.

People with families are just as productive and useful to a modern business as those without - I should know.