Recently, I made the huge, scary and very exciting decision to apply for a new job. After spotting the ad on twitter a few times and scrolling past it, I decided one day that enough was enough and I wanted to go for it. And not only because I lost the will to look at another promotion for Amy Child’s new range of hair rollers/dresses/eyelashes/small dogs/botox/whatever. I applied because it was a good opportunity and one I didn’t want to miss. It wasn’t necessarily the wisest or safest decision, according to some, but it was the right one for me.
Within a couple of 140 character exchanges, a coffee date was pencilled into the diary. Yippeee! Hurrah!! Lots of cliches about grabbing life by the horns and opportunity knocking, etc. etc.
“Are you going to wear your ring?” My very good friend, who, alarmingly, is not from the 1930s but the modern day era, and has an education and a full-time responsible job, asked me.
“Uh… What?” Me, stumped, not quite sure what ring was even in question.
“Well, are you going to wear your engagement ring? To the interview?”
I suddenly realised what it must feel like to be a teenage boy. Was it not big enough? Was it too big? What could be so objectionable about the piece of rock and shiny metal on my finger?
But as it turned out, size really didn’t matter. It was the sheer existence and placement of the ring on my finger that my friend worried could cause objection. It took me a second to catch up. It could have been the beer, or perhaps just the fact that I had forgotten that being a woman – an almost married woman – led certain people to make assumptions about you.
I’m not going to be a housewife after getting married. I’ll make that clear. In fact, I don’t know anyone who has given up a career to become a (childless) housewife after getting married. I don’t think that’s even a real thing now, unless you live in a world of WAGs and oil tycoons and Christian Greys. I, my friends, do not. Thank God. So the thought of taking off my ring hadn’t even occurred to me up until that point.
Now, in these days of Facebook, I don’t know if taking a ring off would really count for much. And if I’m going to get selective in the run up, on Facebook or otherwise, surely there’s a hell of a lot more to be worried about than hiding the fact I’m getting married, isn’t there? Don’t get me wrong, I could be persuaded to get creative with an airbrush on the palette of my life, maybe to conveniently banish the three points on my license or haze over a couple of awkward dalliances. But a sparkly ring, a spectacular party and a life-long, live-in tea maker? Not even in the running.
On a more serious note, there is a real issue here. Maternity leave can present a real problem, especially for small companies, and it’s a problem that rests firmly on the mother’s shoulders. No one asks men if they are married, or getting married, or having children, not even the employers who would readily consider these aspects when reviewing a female candidate. And, perhaps controversially, I will argue that to some degree this makes sense. The norm, as initially encouraged by nature and subsequently by employment law, is for the woman to be the primary care giver in the early stage of the little mite’s life and then continue to take this role when the school rings to say they’ve just vommed all over the glue pots. So some employers think women put other things first, maybe through choice, maybe through circumstances. The real argument here is that not all partnerships are founded around the female making all the sacrifices of parenthood, that often it is a shared venture and sometimes Dad gets the phone call first now and sometimes he wakes up for the night feed. And not only do employers need to understand this, which I like to think most do, but also the law needs to allow for it.
Before I have a panic attack thinking about my friends’ smiling anecdotes of highly complex milk sterilisation methods, eye watering nappies and colic at 3am because I truly believe they are superhuman to glide through these things, I’ll return to my original dilemma. I didn’t take my ring off. Not just because it’s a task that requires half a litre of washing up liquid since a few too many G&Ts over the party season enlarged my fingers, but also because I see it as something that tells a story of who I am and who I will be. I’m happy to be held accountable, both for the decisions I have made and will make. Life gets in the way sometimes for everyone, no matter what it consists of; work, husbands, babies, hangovers, a jumbled or perfectly balanced mixture of everything. If anything, the future is on my mind more than ever now, and investing in it to make it the best it can be is my highest priority. I had faith in my new employer – and myself – to decide that wearing or not-wearing a ring made no difference to my potential as a candidate.
And it didn’t. I got the job. Like all modern-day candidates best for the role in question should, without prejudice or discrimination.