Theatre Thoughts: Parental Consent
At the start of 2016, for reasons too long-winded to get into, I found myself on a job hunt. Searching for work is soul destroying at the best of times, and I lost count of the times I heard the reassurances that 'theatre is a really hard industry to get in to'. I know: I was a performer for ten years. I know it's hard, and I know that the admin and production side of it is no less difficult.
After four months, however, I was starting to get a wee bit concerned. I had taken a temp job to tide me over, so I wasn't too stressed about money (that all came earlier), but I was beginning to wonder whether I would ever find work in the industry that I loved, had trained for and studied to progress in.
I wondered, first, whether it was my CV and/or Cover Letter that was the problem, even though I was getting interviews for maybe one out of every three jobs I applied for, so I had them looked at and was told they were great. Interviews went well, I always felt like I'd done my best, made a good impression, asked the right questions, etc. And then I would get the 'thanks but no thanks' email. A couple offered to keep my CV on file, and one or two, when I asked for feedback, said that there was nothing wrong at all but that they'd opted for someone with more experience. Fair enough. Although I think my favourite was the following; "While you were an exceptional candidate, and clearly more than capable of performing the duties of the job as advertised, we have decided to change the parameters of the role."
Now, I could (and did) rant to my other half about that for a good long while, so I'm not going to reproduce it here.
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I decided that I must be doing, or saying, something fundamentally wrong in my interviews, without even realising it. So I read every article I could find on interview etiquette, I spoke to friends who work in a variety of industries about interview procedures, and practised questions with the other half. (He was very understanding throughout this whole process!)
Then one evening, he said something to me, that I hadn't considered. I was ranting, and asking where I was going wrong, what was wrong with me? And he said to me; "Do you think it's because you're a woman, you're thirty, and you don't have kids?"
I bit back the first snap that came to mind and allowed that to sink in for a second. It couldn't be, could it? But what if it was? How do you even go about getting across to a potential employer that you don't want kids in the near future? It's hardly something you pop in your personal statement or list as an achievement on your CV. The following fortnight I had four job interviews. I managed to slip into each one, in a roundabout way, that I had no immediate plans to pop a sprog, and guess what? I got offered all four of them.
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Under the 2010 Equality Act, it is illegal for employers to ask for this kind of information from female candidates, and in all honesty, I doubt that some of the companies I interviewed with would have even considered this when debating whether to offer me a second interview. However, it does seem odd that when I started slipping in this little nugget of information, I suddenly get inundated with offers after nearly five months of no progress.
And I do understand it. I was interviewing with small-to-mid sized production companies, independents, start-ups, non-profits; all exciting companies, with passionate people producing interesting work, and I would have loved to have been a part of any of them (would still love to be in the future). However, as a small company, they can't afford to take the financial risk that I would work with them for a couple of months and then totter off on maternity leave; they would be unable to fire me, would have to keep paying me, and on top of that pay someone else to cover my role for the time that I was off, without a cast-iron guarantee that I would return.
I bet at least a handful of the places I interviewed with did consider this, and I'm certain that, even subconsciously, this would have been a factor in several decisions.
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Most people that I speak to about this, when I get to the point where the boyfriend dropped the bombshell, they shake their heads in disagreement, scoff and say 'surely not in 2016'. But then I reveal the twist, and the head shaking stops, replaced by a raised eyebrow and a 'huh' of surprise. I agree; surely not in 2016, and maybe I am wrong, but the fact remains that when I slipped in, as an aside, that I had no immediate plans to have children, I was offered jobs where previously I was 'not suitable for the role'.
Oh, and if you wanted to know, the 'aside' was when asked whether I had any existing holiday bookings, and I replied "No, no holidays but I may need a day or two for wedding; you see, all of my friends are getting married and having kids, but that is not for me right now."