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Tips for Moms Dealing With Bias During an Interview

Women make up nearly half of the American workforce —47 percent in 2010, to be specific—according to the Department of Labor, so it's safe to assume that a good portion of these women pull double-duty as a working mother. While it's illegal for a potential employer to ask you about your familial status during an interview, it still happens. Know your rights during an interview and decide how to respond appropriately to an inappropriate question that indicates bias or discrimination.

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Know the Law

Not all interviewers who bring up your children mean to discriminate against you -- it might just be small talk. Some employers, though, are gun-shy about hiring a mom who might have to split her priorities. Nonetheless, it's illegal to make hiring decisions based on your familial status, so these questions shouldn't be asked. However, there is no federal law that prohibits family responsibilities discrimination, or discrimination against employees based on family care-giving responsibilities. Certain cities and states have laws on the books that do prohibit it, so check local laws to be sure of what's allowed where you live. Discrimination of this nature often falls under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, as well as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, says the Center for WorkLifeLaw at University of California's Hastings College of Law. If you have questions about whether you have experienced discrimination, get a lawyer's opinion.

Sidestep the Question

Even if you know a question is on shaky ground legally, it's hard to know how to respond when you truly want to be hired. Refusing to answer the question -- even when it clearly demonstrates bias -- can be awkward and jeopardize your chances. If you feel comfortable answering the question, do so; if not, try to sidestep the question by redirecting the answer to your capabilities. For example, if the employer blatantly asks if you have any children, answer with a caveat: "Yes, I have a son. However, I enjoy immersing myself in projects that allow me to use my detail-oriented sensibilities."

Show Your Commitment

From the get-go, a working mother can ward off any potential bias by affirming her commitment to her career. While you need not set aside family obligations, "Working mothers can show commitment by being as responsive and flexible as possible while working around their [other] commitments," says New York-based executive coach Alisa Cohn. This could mean logging on after typical work hours to answer an email requesting an interview. "Communication always helps," she adds. During the interview, share ways that you're willing to go above and beyond -- though you shouldn't be untruthful. If you're not willing to work evening and weekend hours, don't say you can.

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Shut It Down

If an interview continues to harp on your status as a mother and the bias is clear, make it known that the questions are inappropriate -- even if it means shooting down your chances for the job. Potential phrasing includes stating that the question is not relevant to the position's responsibilities and that you're uncomfortable with the topic. Keep in mind, says management consultant Bernard Marr on LinkedIn, that an employer who's willing to skirt the law and make you uncomfortable might not the person for whom you want to work.

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