Job Interviewing Taboos –

We have all been to a job interview. By the time you get there, you have done a little bit of research about the institution you are interviewing with. At the very basic, you know a lot about the job profile and requirements, whether it requires travel, and have an idea about its clientele. You are told it is taboo to ask about ‘compensation’, until the prospective employer brings up the topic. Even then, it is safer to bounce the question back to the employer, and let them tell to you how much worth they think of you. Another ‘silent taboo’ is talking about family life at a job interview. Perhaps, if you are a man, indicating  you are a family man during a job interview could present you fairly, as a good family man, who wants a career to afford a good life for his family.  More than likely, if you are a man, you are not expected to spend most of your life as CEO of Home Affairs. Even in ‘liberal’, women are the primarily child rearers and homemakers/ home managers. But how about if you are a woman and a mother?

I recently read an article, “US Foreign Policy Gender Gap” by Sarah Kendzior writing in Al Jazeera, that perception and money affect the number of women in senior level foreign affairs positions. According to Kendzior, perception is related to the assumption that women are particularly diplomatic, or empathetic, or kind, while money dictates that one should be able to afford their way around, especially when competing for an internship in the nation’s major international affairs hubs like New York or Washington. As well, one should afford to fly to interview with The Economist in London or take up an unpaid internship with the United Nations involving temporary relocation to expensive global cities.

What we learn is that while money affects male or female alike, very few ambitious and talented young professionals or students from poor backgrounds can afford these opportunities, even worse mothers with small children. Already, Anne-Marie Slaughter, writing for The Atlantic in summer 2012 told us “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, not because they are not super-ambitious but due to a lack of structural support to juggle family and work life.

But something these two writers did not mention was the “deafening silence” to the “Don’t Talk about family life when job interviewing Taboo”. Sure, we can liberally give the prospective employer our physical address, indicate that we are an email or phone call away to “further explore our job interests with the recruiter”, and are “available to start work immediately ”. But we are not exactly at liberty to talk about our family situation, although I have encountered men who ‘comfortably sneaked” in their family life during a job interview. My assumption is they do it because, it projects “a responsible family man”, who prioritizes his family obligations as central to his career success. But for a mother seeking paid employment, it is quite taboo talking about “family life” in a job interview.

Picture this, you are a single mother, with a toddler and would like to be in his life, while equally working a 9-5 job, the standard full-time work hours. I have no doubt that plenty of single parents have had to ask themselves these questions, and many have excelled at work. But I doubt any or many ever brought up their marital status and family life in their job interview, maybe until after the job was offered.

I have been living abroad for the last four years in three different countries, working excellently at my job, with a balanced family, work and “me” life, thanks to the flexibility of my scholarly research career. While living abroad, I scooped plenty of interviews, and job offers, even when I brought out my family status at the first interview. At one job interview, I stated upfront that I am was a single parent, and wished to balance “family, work and me life”, and asked for a flexible work schedule that would allow me drop off my son at school, and pick-up him up at the end of the school day, before the typical end of work day, and also take a personal day off each week. I got the job on my terms, with my son at the center, and with me as a single mother.

Now that I am back in the United States with a richer career experience, I am having trouble articulating “my three-tier life” to any prospective employer. In typical consultancy or NGO employment, plenty of work is done offsite of the employing office – we carry office work on our mobile phones, at home, on the plane and in coffee shops. And while we sign up for a 9-5, we usually put in more hours than we are paid. For one of my employers abroad, I had agreed to a 10:00a to 3:00p from Monday to Thursday work schedule. Yet, I arrived two hours earlier every work day, and also worked on some Fridays, my weekly day off. Whenever I went out to conduct field research and training of village communities away from my office and home base, I spent three days away from my son, without compensation for the nights-out for work.

So, why is it a taboo to ask a prospective employer to factor in the life of a single parent, trying to balance work-family-and-me life? I am aware that having an international career and a degree from a US university might have reflected favorably to my employers abroad, most of whom were in the international affairs realm. But I would like to be accorded similar consideration from employers in international affairs back here in the United States. Most probably though, employers in the US have in the back of their mind concern for, “who will take care of her child while she is at work”, especially when she has to travel to sites away from home? Similar concerns exist whether one is applying for international affairs positions, as a waitress at the local Red Lobster Restaurant, or as a Sales Associate at Walmart.

But all is not lost for single “family-centralist” mothers. As Sarah Kendzior says, for women, [and for single mothers [or single fathers] one has to recreate their professional ambitions, by perhaps becoming a writer or blogger. I know plenty of [single] mothers who have quit lavishly paying and professionally rewarding careers to go on their own and have afforded the ability to put their children’s central. Handy and artistic work is another option that single mothers could pursue. If you are into academia, there are possibilities of teaching, student counseling, or organizing summer camps and student internships abroad, with a flexible schedule. However, getting your footstep in the door is the first mighty step to take. Still, that might not come easily, by telling the prospective employer that – “I am a single mother and I have a five-year old”. That is still a Taboo to Job Interviewing! Image

Dear Son, Sometimes bad things happen to good people

Dear Son,

Yesterday, I had a great day! I cannot claim to have accomplished all that I set out to do, for but one thing, I did the most important item on the calendar -beside the usual, work, get you ready for school,, exercise, and pick you up from the bus stop. I felt energized!
You and I baked gingerbread cookies for your winter-recess class party. Our first experience venturing into gingerbread baking! We burned some but enjoyed it all. We decorated them with M&Ms, and of course you ate some of those…plus the extra cookie you designed for yourself.
As I sat down to unwind, check my email and the news, that is when I learned that, Sometimes, bad things happen to good people…..
 
Uganda Bans Mini-Skirts”….is the first piece of news I read on a friend’s Facebook profile. I went to google and searched for all news reporting on the subject. Face of Malawi, Nigeria Vanguard, africansportlight, bulawayo24, the guardian, and of course BBC had all picked up the story. There you go! This has been in the pipeline since early this year, when the Minister of Ethics, a Catholic Father Lokodo proposed the bill, allegedly due to increase in pornography in Uganda.
My instant reaction on FB was:
 Where have I been? Does this mean i am now a “persona non grata” in Uganda? A
(I added a link to the BBC article http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25451709
Those who know me will tell you that I take my liberty very seriously! It is my identity, and I have worked hard to earn it -through self-expression, writing, learning, social interactions and discovery. I am a human, black and woman, in that order. I believe in Global Humanness! That everybody matters, and everybody has a RIGHT TO BE!
With that comes my detestation for social confinement, especially what I see as self-serving rules and decrees that unfairly target a social group based on perceptions of others about them. I am not going to tell you what to wear, so I would not wish that you should bother whether I have clothes or not – that is an extra inconvenience that I do not want to be bothered me, and so shouldn’t you!
I had to go to bed! As usual, I woke up at 2:00am to work till the time I have to make your breakfast, get you ready for school, and I see you out of the door to school at 08:10. I went to the kitchen to grab a cup of team. Then I remembered that I had not finished decorating all your cookies. I guess the news from the previous night hit me rather hard! So,  I decorated them with red and green, the December festivities colors, packed them, ready for school. I went back to work on my computer.
But still, there was not much noise online denouncing the bill! Where are all the Ugandan social activists on FB? In public fora? the women’s rights movement? the feminists always ‘snooping’ around on whose genitals are gone..?
 
Then at 06:00a this morning…and….
 
…in less than 24 hours, I got the news that  “Uganda Parliament passes the anti-homosexuality bill”….
There we go again…….It has been coming since 2011…but the mighty almighty international community, whose mighty arm controls the Ugandan government has kept it on the shelves with threats of withdrawing aid to the government.
Two identities stoned and stifled; one public [mini-skirt wearing women], another private [gays]!  
My reaction….
Uganda, it's gonna be a funky festive season!
Sorry minority, this Christmas aint for you, if you belong to any one of these two social groups: 1) Wear miniskirts; or 2) Homosexual. 
And you thought iPads do not boost productivity?
XXXX, are you still down-under? NNN, tell us, Min of Diaspora Affairs:)
One of my friends responded, 
"The ministry of diaspora affairs will have to start issuing travel warnings to the Ugandan diaspora warning them about travel to Uganda.
So if you wear mini skirts, or play for the other team, you are persona non grata. 
PS: Your money is not needed too so spend it away from uganda's shores."
Two hours later, 08:00a
 

“Uganda in international news December 2013: screw Women’s rights; hello Gay rights! Talk about society always strategically playing women against any other!” I cried

"And what are the Karamajongs to do? Oh! The white man'a burden, of dressing us up!” I added
 
More sadness from me….
NO Thank You, It's Friday in Uganda:(
 Four hours later, 10:00a, I wrote this….
"I think it's been a while since I've been sad, and publicly expressed my sadness, esp on a forum like FB. But the passing of the Anti-pornography bill in Uganda this weekend, hit me real hard! In essence, "the law bans material which shows parts of the body including breasts, thighs and buttocks, or any erotic behaviour intended to cause sexual excitement."
As a self-declared comfortable nudist, I am terribly offended. Already, idle men in Uganda have been literally and verbally undressing women in public, if they deem you improperly dressed. Now they have a law to endorse their abusive actions.
Two, Ugandan nation groups like the Karamojong, who do not wear clothes or not cover up fully are now criminals in their own country. A friend reminded me that Fr. Lokodo, Uganda's Minister of Ethics who proposed this law is also Karamojong, but he's basically saying, screw you my peoples!
Three, most Ugandan cultural groups dance in what could be termed "erotic behaviour intended to cause sexual excitement". Is our culture and our cultural celebrations illegal too?
True, the anti-gay bill has been passed as well. Not that I do not care; I have published my views repeatedly on the subject, and expressed solidarity with the Uganda gay community. I also think they have a whole international clout who will ensure that the Uganda government financially suffocates, if it dares to "mess around with their people -[read gays in Uganda]".
But for the wretched of us, running and exercising in knee-high shorts, smartly and happily dressed in knee-high dresses and skirts, and twerking to the beats of Bakisimba or Badilisha, who have already been abused, pulled, verbally stoned by these idle men in Uganda, some living and dosing in parliament at the expense of our taxes, only waking up to abuse us further!
And to claim that we are a god fearing nation, when millions of public funds are robbed by these men in political office without prosecution, is a terrible insult to my being as a human, a woman, and a Ugandan!
It's a men's world, indeed!

But I do hope, it is not Your world as a man, my son. I do hope, when you have the power, and in position, you do not make this world all about yourself!
I must say though that, your tardiness for school, plus events that happened later today cast the smile on my cheeks further away…. Until later in the day when I went through a friend’s photo album and, Viola…a little laughter showed up….