Tell Me About Yourself': Understanding the Role of the Employer Interview and Motherhood Penalties

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Christy Glass


Since the 1970s and the substantial rise in female labor force participation, the gender wage gap has long interested social scientists. More recently, scholars have identified a phenomenon known as the motherhood wage penalty. This research has demonstrated that women with children face wage discrepancies that go above and beyond being female or being a parent and represent a unique interaction between these two ascribed status characteristics. To date, very little research has explored the meso-level processes, such as employment practices and job context, to determine what role (if any) discrimination plays in shaping access to jobs. This project, while informed by the MWP literature and disparate wage outcomes, seeks to expand our understanding of non-wage related motherhood penalties by analyzing recruitment and hiring practices, specifically applicant screening and interviewing In order to assess the way in which employers use the interview process to screen and evaluate potential employees, I conducted 26 semi-structured, in-depth interviews with hiring managers. Using the status theory of motherhood as well as the existing literature on employers' construction of the ideal worker, I searched interview transcripts for themes regarding how employers define the ideal worker as well as their practices for screening and evaluating candidates. My specific research questions for this paper include 1) How do employers define their ideal worker? 2) How do employers screen for this type of employee in their interviewing practices? 3) Do perceptions of gender and parental status shape employers' interviewing strategies? In order to answer these questions, I first review the status theory of motherhood to frame my study of the role of the employer interview and the existence of employment barriers to mothers. Second, I examine the existing literature with regard to the motherhood wage penalty and employer bias and discrimination. Third, I describe the meso-level, qualitative methodological approach I used for answering my research questions. Fourth, I present my findings as a series of themes drawn from interviews with hiring managers. Finally, I conclude with some discussion as well as the limitations and future implications of this research.

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