“So, when are you planning on running off to have a baby?”
Written by Anonymous.
In the Surviving in Scrubs submissions and the BMA Sexism in Medicine report the ‘issue’ of maternity is repeatedly referenced. This is an issue that has come back time and time again in conversations with my friends who work in healthcare and is replicated in qualitative research studies with female physicians. Unwelcome conversations about choices relating to pregnancy and life choices still seem to be a regular occurrence. Every single one of my female friends who are doctors have a story of being inappropriately questioned about their life choices in the workplace, relating to plans for future pregnancies and motherhood.
It is time to question why some people still feel that these are acceptable questions to ask? I would question this even outside of the workplace in our day-to-day interactions. Whether a woman is or is not intending to have children is quite frankly no one else’s business! Several of my close friends have been asked in job interviews whether they have or are planning children, this is often done under the guise of informal chit chat:
“It was an informal interview and they stated to me that as they had employed two other young, female doctors recently then we would all need to think about when we had children as it would be difficult if we all went off at the same time. She also said she knew she wasn’t allowed to talk about that.”Female Doctor, 37
“I was casually asked [in an interview] if I was married or have kids. I’m sure it was just chit chat but I was also just angry that he’d even asked as it’s so clearly not something they are supposed to ask. Would he be more likely to hire me if I said three kids, assuming I was unlikely to want more?”Female Doctor, 32
“It often becomes a topic of conversation during our informal coffee mornings, with jokes made about how many of the trainees are pregnant or on maternity leave leaving gaps in the workforce. I feel like I can’t talk truthfully and wonder what the motive is behind being asked. Why do I need to tell them before I even decide myself!”Female Doctor, 31
It is simply unacceptable to ask these questions unprompted, and continues to highlight the inequity women are still facing. Heteronormative gender roles remain tools for prejudice, with employers formulating preconceived ideas about employees, based on their gender.
We also have no idea what might be going on in people’s lives, many women who work in the NHS have fertility problems and are struggling through the enduring pain of working whilst going through painful investigations, IVF or adoption processes. In fact, research has shown that women who work in healthcare related roles, particularly as doctors, are more likely to suffer fertility issues. With rates quoted as high as 1 in 4 female physicians reportedly suffering from infertility, which is twice the rate for the general population1. Factors such as higher levels of stress, changes in circadian patterns due to shift working and delaying family decisions due to rigid training programmes, have been hypothesised as leading to reduced fertility2.
With this in mind, it is simply even more inciting that women are still reporting being questioned inappropriately about their life choices. It is not acceptable to assume that women are comfortable being questioned about their fertility at work, and colleagues and employers should think twice before asking these questions.
- Pfennig CL, Wilson CA, Britt TW, Pirrallo RG, Checura CM. A comparative analysis on fertility success among physician specialties. Acad Emerg Med. 2022 Jun;29(6):792-794. doi: 10.1111/acem.14463. Epub 2022 Feb 27. PMID: 35178827; PMCID: PMC9305146.
- Stentz NC, Griffith KA, Perkins E, Jones RD, Jagsi R. Fertility and Childbearing Among American Female Physicians. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2016 Oct;25(10):1059-1065. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2015.5638. Epub 2016 Jun 27. PMID: 27347614.