Singlehood, Childlessness, and Career

I was recently flipping through the stations on TV and stumbled across the 1997 “chick flick” Picture Perfect. For those not familiar, this particular movie stars Jennifer Aniston as an aspiring ad agency professional who finds her career, despite her obvious talent, slightly hampered by the fact that she’s single.  Her lack of attachment (no husband, kids, or mortgage) is the basis of her boss and the agency’s fear that she’ll develop relationships with key clients and then leave, taking those clients with her elsewhere, without a second thought.   She feels so hampered that it prompts her to concoct a story with a fake fiancé and wedding plans to prove her “commitment to the firm;” her plans to settle down reaffirm that she is in no hurry to make a move anywhere else.


Now this movie is slightly dated and the world of work has certainly seen changes since its release, but I wonder if in some cases these types of fears still exist?  One might argue not. If fact, Time Magazine’s recent cover story “The Childfree Life” discussed couples who choose to not have children, and the career opportunities that are often available to childless women that they may otherwise have to forgo.  And one of our Women of HR contributors, Kimberly Patterson, recently explored the subject, and possible fallacy, of loyalty here.


However, despite these arguments, you have to wonder if the sort of mentality presented in Picture Perfect doesn’t actually still exist in some places and some companies.  There are still many organziations where longevity and loyalty is rewarded, where service recognition programs are a key part of employee recognition strategies.  I’m not claiming that all companies that recognize and reward loyalty think like this; I’m just wondering if in some corners of Corporate America, there are still executives and leadership teams who maintain these biases.


Having been single in the professional world for many years, I’ve felt both sides of this:  the Time Magazine cited opportunities to travel, and the freedom to be a part of projects that may have been more difficult with commitments at home.  But there have also been occasions where I’ve experienced Jennifer Aniston’s character’s feeling that I’m not quite the same as everyone else who is settled down with a family.  I’ve never felt it hamper my career, but there are times (especially when company and charity events are centered on couples and/or families) that there has been a slight feeling of not quite belonging.


So I ask you…what do you think?  Do these biases still exist?  Are there places where women may be held back as a result of not being “settled down?” And if so, do these biases affect men the same way?


Futhermore, as HR professionals, should it not be partially our responsibility to ensure our companies are not excluding single and/or childless women (and men for that matter) from development and advancement opportunities?


I’d love to hear your comments below.



About the Author: Jennifer Payne, SPHR has 15 years of HR experience in employee relations, talent acquisition, and learning & development, and currently works in talent management in the retail grocery industry.  She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter as @JennyJensHR and on LinkedIn.


Photo credit iStockphoto


About the Author

Jennifer Payne

Jennifer Payne is a 20+ year human resources leader with a focus on researching, developing, and implementing talent management programs. She is a believer in lifelong learning and self-development who strives to stay current in HR trends, technology, best practices, and the future of work by sharing knowledge with and learning from HR colleagues and thought leaders across the country and throughout the world through writing, speaking, and involvement in various industry conferences and events.  She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter...


Anna O

I’ve never personally come across a bias towards singledom, I would have thought that would work to one’s credit. As others have stated you are seemingly available at the drop of a hat to complete last minute deadlines etc, Unlike married or people with children. I know I felt a bias when job hunting a few years back after being ‘newly married’ and a lot of people it seemed viewed me as wanting to run off and have children right away. I guess there will always be some kind of bias depending on what the company you work for are looking for in an employee.

Jennifer Payne

Thanks for the comments, Tim. I agree with you that a bias does seem to exist in some places (intentional or not) towards single folks (men and women), their personal lives, and how their availability for work-related responsibilities should be different than those with families. I am absolutely a proponent of workplace flexibility, but work/life balance should be work/life balance, regardless of what that balance is needed for.

Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

Pamelyn Eichelberger

I think we (that’s a big collective “we”) need to get over labeling and worrying about who’s doing what after hours and focus on developing those employees who exhibit the drive, committment and abilities to grow. HR should be driving that bus right over any existing biases.

In all seriousness, I think there’s enough backlash by singles who complain about not getting the same flexibility marrieds with kids get, as well as marrieds who complain they’re not afforded the same opportunities as the singles who can (presumptively) work the longer hours and take on the last minute, gotta-get-done projects. I’ve come across multiple examples of each of these in action, but I’ve never known anyone to be held back or hold someone back for being single. I’m sure it happens, just not nearly as often as the singles vs marrieds with kids arguments.It should fall to HR to manage how people are hired, trained, and developed to ensure biases are eliminated (or, more likely, minimized at the very least!) when making any employment decisions.

Jennifer Payne

Pamelyn, you make some excellent points here. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

Tim Gardner

Do these biases still exist? Likely they do. Maybe not as pervasive as in the past, but there will always be some kind of bias regarding anyone who’s lifestyle choices are different than the owner of the Regarding your question about men facing bias – I was single for the first 10 years of my career, and there was always an assumption that I was more flexible for things like weekend coverage or certain travel. It was true that things like that were easier for me to do, it wasn’t fair, however, that my personal life was considered as partof what might be expected of me at work.


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