Marital discrimination in the workplace is, of course, illegal. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
As with many types of discrimination, proving you’ve been treated unfairly based on your marital status can be difficult or, in some cases, impossible. However, that shouldn’t mean it’s ignored. Sharing anecdotal evidence and highlighting the implications of marital discrimination is crucial to prompting a shift in employers’ mindsets.
Hiring someone based on their marital status is illegal, immoral and, quite simply, bad for businesses’ bottom-lines.
Look at Kate*, a 27 year old marketing professional on the market for a new job. Kate has a string of qualifications and awards to her name; on paper, she’s a strong candidate. But she’s also engaged and, before every interview, takes off her ring.
“I’ve definitely noticed interviewers’ eyes dart to my ring and worried that that may influence their decision to hire me,” says Kate. “It’s frustrating because I’m incredibly career-driven and committed. My engagement doesn’t change that.”
Dismissing Kate based solely on her marital status means missing out on real talent that could extend far beyond any potential time off on maternity leave. If, that is, Kate even decides to have children.
And then there’s shared parental leave to consider. With parents now able to share time off work to look after their baby, a male interviewee is hypothetically as much of a ‘risk’ as a newly engaged/married woman. In fact, a seemingly carefree and single man may in reality have a heavily pregnant partner and plans to soon take paternity leave.
It’s not only the newly engaged and married that face challenges, either. Ironically, being divorced can also harm your chances of employment.
“I used to have a boss who would immediately discard any CVs with a ‘divorced’ marital status on them,” says Isabel*. “He openly commented that divorcees were likely to be emotionally unhinged and difficult to work with.”
Given that 42% of marriages in the UK end in divorce, such a comment is not only problematic in terms of severely limiting your shortlist of candidates – it’s ridiculous. While some cases cite ‘unreasonable behaviour’ as grounds for divorce, this is entirely contextual and likely to have a far more complex story behind it. And, of course, many marriages end amicably or with innocent parties.
(A side note: we strongly recommend not including your marital status on your CV. While it’s nice for potential employers to know your interests beyond work, they don’t need to know you’re divorced with two children. And it’s illegal for interviewers to ask your marital status, so withholding this information makes sure it can’t influence any hiring decisions.)
The truth is, it’s impossible to know a candidate’s full backstory, no matter how much you interview them. To make assumptions of a person’s character based on their marital status is unfair, dangerous and could have disastrous consequences.
After all, the best workplaces are the most diverse – and how diverse can a company be if only interested in hiring those who are comfortably single or long-term married?
*Names have been changed
To find out how we could help make your workplace more diverse, get in touch.