I started job hunting when my first daughter was 10 months old and I was still on maternity leave. I had been itching to move on from my pre-baby position for a number of reasons: I worked long hours, there was little upward mobility and I wanted a more competitive salary to offset the astronomical cost of daycare in Toronto. But job hunting proved harder than I thought — and not just because I was still sleep-deprived and finding it hard to leave the house without smears of peanut butter on my pants. It was extremely difficult to find both a position that could enhance my career and an employer who would be understanding that I would potentially require some flexibility.
During my first interview, for example, I was asked to speak to experiences in the past six months that were relevant to the position (a totally fair question). I explained I was currently off, but spoke to some of the projects I'd handled at my previous jobs. After learning I was a new mom, the interviewer flat out asked me, “How are you going to manage a busy position like this with a young child at home?” Needless to say, I didn’t want or get an offer.
I know I'm not the only mom who has been through this. There are more single parents and dual-income families in Canada than ever before. As of 2015, almost 70 percent of Canadian women with at least one child under six work. Finding an employer that accommodates the realities of parenthood — like the 5 p.m. hard outs for daycare pickup or last-minute work-from-home requests because your toddler just puked blueberries all over your living room — can make life a hell of a lot more manageable. Here’s what to know when you’re job hunting with kids.
Before you apply
Research is your best friend. Peruse a potential employer's website, creep its social media, and read reviews to find out as much as you can about its office culture and attitude towards parents. (I like Canada’s Top Family-Friendly Employers, which grades businesses on everything from benefit plans to initiatives that help families; Forbes Canada’s Best Employers, which offers helpful summaries about the 100-top rated businesses in the country; and LinkedIn’s Top Companies, which links you to the feeds of employers, so you can find out about their best practices.)
When you find a job you're interested in, quietly reach out to previous and current employees through friends or your network, says Linda Torry, from the Rotman Initiative for Women In Business, a program for women returning to work after an extended leave. They'll be able to give you intel about the company that you couldn’t find online — maybe there’s a parent-dedicated Slack channel that allows you to connect with other moms and dads at the office or an opportunity to work remotely once your three-month probationary period is over. Red flags could include a job posting that mentions evening or weekend work commitments, or that the role may require overtime or travel.
During the interview process
Check out the employees and the office space. Clues like photos of kids in people’s office or lactation rooms can tell you a lot. The same goes if you notice that the staff is mostly new grads sporting scrunchies and organizing Spikeball tourneys at lunch. That could be a sign that a parent might not jive with the social and work culture.
But don't run out the door quite yet. Although certain companies — a tech startup for example — are more likely to be fast-paced environments with long hours, your schedule depends on your department and your manager, says Cindy Harvey, a Toronto-based career strategy coach. An easy way to suss out the work/life balance without looking like someone who wants to bail every day at 4 p.m. is to ask about the office culture and the day-in-the-life of an employee in the role you're applying for. (Leave the conversation about flexible working hours and family-friendly extras to the second interview, warn our experts.) Remember, adds Torry, just because your dream job might seem incompatible with your home life, doesn’t mean you should automatically rule it out. “If a company finds the right individual that they want in that role, they'll make accommodations."
Children can even help you connect to a future boss. Hiring decisions, while obviously based on your skillset, are also about likability and rapport. That doesn’t mean you should open with a story about how your toddler pooped on the potty for the first time that morning, but once you gauge the environment, you can be open about little Johnny. “[Mentioning kids] can go sideways but then to me that’s not the right place for you if your family is important to you and they aren’t willing to respect that,” Harvey says. Which is why I was OK when I didn't get a call back for a second meeting after that first terrible interview. I didn't want to work for someone who couldn't understand that having a child and being a great employee aren’t mutually exclusive.
That said, in a job interview, you aren't obligated to reveal whether or not you have children. Under both the Canadian Human Rights Act and provincial and territorial human-rights legislation, an employer cannot discriminate against anyone based on gender or family status. “Your family situation, and whether you have a child or childcare responsibility has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with one's ability to fulfill the job,” explains Jonquille Pak, a partner at Toronto-based employment law firm Whitten & Lublin.
Before you accept the job
It’s negotiation time! If flexibility at work is going to be a deal breaker, then you need to decide your hard line before going into contract discussions. Include any specifics (whether it's working from home two days a week or clocking in from 7–3 instead of 9–5) in writing in your paperwork so there’s no confusion about the terms, says Pak.
If you’re returning to your pre-baby position, Harvey suggests having a conversation with your manager to ask for the flexibility you need to do the best job, like being home for dinner each night, but logging on — when required — after your child goes to bed. Come armed to your meeting with a list of the tangible things you’ve delivered for the team, says Harvey.
You also need to be prepared that your boss might say no to your demands. It’s perfectly legal to do so if your caregiving responsibilities are a preference, not a need, explains Pak. (For example, if you want to be home before your daughter goes to bed versus you're the only one who can pick her up at daycare.) Adds Harvey: “You've got to ask for it. And you've got to be willing to hear no." If you do, then maybe it’s time to start the job hunt.