Last year, I got engaged. Now, I'm job-searching and faced with a question that my fiancé is not: Should I wear my engagement ring to interviews?
Much has been said in the media about gender bias in the workplace, and I worry I'll be judged by potential employers for the ring on my finger.
Will they think I won't be as committed to my job and be distracted while wedding planning? Will they think I'll drive a hard negotiation for salary because, hey, weddings are expensive? Or will they dread the amount of paid time off I might take: the bridal shower, the bachelorette party, the wedding, and the honeymoon?
Women with children face these kinds of biases all the time. For example, a woman with children may be overlooked for a promotion because that job would require more business dinners. Maybe her employer worries she will have to take many days off for her children and want a higher salary because she has a family. Maybe they worry she could get pregnant again and ask for maternity leave or leave her job.
It stands to reason that employers may make unfair assumptions about engaged women, too.
My ring is beautiful. It's a symbol of the love my fiancé has for me, the commitment we've made to each other, and the joining of two families. The ring belonged to his great-grandmother and was given to him by his aunt. It feels very special to have this family heirloom. But it also feels very strange to have what is essentially a brand on my finger that says, "I am a soon-to-be-married woman." It's one thing to have this sign visible in a bar, but it feels like quite another thing to have it broadcast to potential employers.
At a few interviews when I did wear my ring, I didn't notice being treated any differently or that anyone even registered the ring on my finger. But I've started going to interviews without my ring.
In one interview, even though I wasn't wearing my ring, I mentioned my fiancé for a few reasons. First, he came up naturally in conversation; he works in a related industry and mentioning that wasn't totally out of place. Second, the interviewer and I had already connected on a personal level. We shared something we both had in common outside of work: an interest in fitness. By opening up and sharing something about my life and interests, we connected and were both more comfortable. I felt this particular person wouldn't judge me for being engaged.
It can be hard in an interview to assess whether you can really be yourself. I'm sure many interviewers wouldn't think twice about the ring on my finger; instead, they'll note my experience, accomplishments, and how I presented myself in the interview. But if by wearing my ring I'm opening myself up to discrimination, why take the risk?
I think the larger question here is do women have to hide their family commitments and marital status when interviewing?
Unfair treatment due to family commitments, pregnancy, the possibility of pregnancy, or gender stereotypes is illegal, but asking about a woman's marital status during an interview, how many children she has, or whether she is pregnant is merely frowned upon. Discrimination based on marital status is not prohibited by federal laws.
Whether you're a fiancé, a wife, or a mom shouldn't matter — you should be allowed to embrace those identities and not be required or feel pressure to hide it.
Perhaps I should embrace being transparent with potential employers. I have a fiancé and I'm planning my wedding, but I'm also a dedicated worker. I want to work at a company where my colleagues and employer appreciate well-rounded employees with interests outside of the office.
Because after all, can't I be a superstar at work and a bride?
I work in an industry where women are in the majority, but women aren't always at the top of companies, making decisions and influencing company culture. Or if they are, they may have to hide their family commitments and overcompensate to appear to be extremely hard-working, successful employees. Men do face this, too — fathers may be judged for taking time off for family or leaving the office early.
As research from 2015 found, some fathers at a consulting firm pretended to work 80-hour weeks to appear to be ideal workers. They were more successful at "passing" than women because they didn't take advantage of company policies to better accommodate work and family and thus avoided being sidelined at work. Even single people may be unfairly expected to stay late and attend after-work events because they don't have a family to run home to. A work-life balance should be equally available to all employees, and people shouldn't be penalized for their marital status, family commitments, or interests outside of the office.
To me, it all goes back to creating office environments where individuality is embraced and supported. When I feel like I can be myself at work, I'm more likely to ask for guidance and share my ideas. But how can we deal with inherent bias and still promote openness in the workplace and during the interview process?
I think that falls to applicants like me to research companies that promote a work-life balance and well-rounded employees. It also falls to companies to talk about the company culture and work to prevent bias. Hiring managers should encourage open and honest communication during interviews that makes expectations transparent and lets potential applicants know they won't be penalized for sharing personal information as appropriate.
At my next interview, I don't know if I'll wear my engagement ring or not. Why should anyone know my business? I don't want to open myself up to potential discrimination. On the other hand, my ring is a symbol of a part of my identity. I'm a fiancé. I'm a member of a committed relationship. It doesn't define me or determine my worth, but it is a part of me.
Does my engagement signal that I'll be any less committed to my career or employer? I don't think so. But even if I am less committed to my job because I have different priorities, what does it matter as long as my work is still stellar?