Does Your Boss Need to Know Your Childbearing Plans?

A controversy is raging over a statement made by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg in which she suggests that employers should be allowed to ask during job interviews if a woman is planning to have children.

Fox News is reporting that Sandberg, 43, the mother of two, brought up the subject at the World Economic Forum meeting in Switzerland.

“Employers should be allowed to ask women about plans for children,” Sandberg reportedly said. “Every HR department tells you not to do that, but we need to have a much more open conversation.”

Women such as Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum, thinks Sandberg has a point.  “The reality is that when women take off time for maternity leave and when they have children and families … it takes time away from the workplace. It has a real economic cost to business that we need to consider.”

However, others believe this type of questioning could lead to gender discrimination.

“We fought a lot of these battles in the 70s and 80s to prevent gender discrimination and we don’t want to walk back on that,” said Jolynn Shoemaker, director of Women in International Security.

Asking women about their childbearing plans at any time in their employment history, during an interview or while she’s on the job, is “misguided.” While she appreciates Sandberg’s attempts to “elevate the conversation” and create a more open discussion of the matter, this would need to be done very carefully so as to avoid a backlash.

Instead, she suggests that what employers should think about “is more innovative ways and safe spaces to have the conversations that we need to have between employees and employers about these issues.”

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