Why we need to stop asking female colleagues if they want children

‘Do you want children’, is an old fashioned question that is a bad fit in the modern world. It’s a question that women have been asked more times than Kate Flemming has called Steve Arnott ‘mate’ in all 6 seasons of Line of Duty. It’s personal and invasive and one of the most inappropriate talking points to initiate.

Variations of the question include ‘are you trying for a baby?’ and ‘will we be hearing the pitter patter of tiny feet any time soon?’. The probing starts when we are young: ‘do you have a boyfriend?’, then, once a partner has been found the interrogation progresses to the next level: ‘will there be wedding bells anytime soon?’. 

These questions, as harmless as they seem, cause offence and discomfort to the person in the hot seat, who feels exposed and vulnerable under this archaic spotlight.

The assumption that life plays out in the stages of partner-marriage- babies, is ignorant and out dated. It wont come as a surprise to learn that women are asked this question more times than men, which is odd when men play a part in the process (including donor conception).

Childfree by choice

Women can still work in education, like children, and not have the biological need for a baby that other women do.

There are social media pages in support of women who wish to remain childfree. One woman wrote about her childhood, and how she always had the feeling of being an adult trapped in a child’s body; she was suffocated and wanted to refrain from putting anyone else through this experience. 

In the UK this year birth rates have dropped to 1.6 babies per woman, a fall from 2.1 in 2020: women are deciding not to have children. It’s a misconception that all women want children, and anti-feminist to assume that women will automatically want them.

Comments to avoid making to this colleague

“You’ll change your mind”

‘It’s different when they’re your own”

Childless not by choice

20% of women born in the 1960’s don’t have children. They could have been wrongly labelled as women who chose their careers over starting a family, or that they or their partner disliked kids. The truth is that many of these women (and men) are still living with the grief that they were unable to have children. 

MRKH syndrome (being born without a womb) is a medical condition that prevents women from carrying their own child. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis can be contributing factors towards infertility, and 40%-50% of all cases of infertility are due to ‘male factor’ complications.

The question ‘do you want children?’, or equally cringeworthy, ‘when will you start trying for a baby?’, could be triggering for a woman who has recently lost her baby.


Comments to avoid making to this colleague

“have you tried…”

“you could always adopt”

“have mine!”

They’re trying for a baby

Women prefer to hold on to their pregnancy news until at a point in their gestation when they feel comfortable in sharing this- particularly if they are trying to conceive after loss.


Asking a colleague who is already pregnant, ‘do you think you’ll have kids?’, pressures women into feeling they should be sharing their pregnancy news sooner than they’d like to.


It’s also not okay to ask colleagues to comment on their sex lives, ie. whether they are trying to have a baby.

Comments to avoid making to this colleague

“have you tried…”

“it will happen”

“you’ll have no problem”

“trying for a baby is the fun part”

“You’ll fall pregnant as soon as you stop trying”

“just relax and it will happen”

Circumstances that prevent them from starting a family

Colleagues who would love to be a parent but have not yet started a family could be down to reasons such as: their relationship status, the health of their relationship, their career, their financial situation, their physical health, and their mental health. 

Comments to avoid making to this colleague

“there’s never a ‘right time’ to have kids!”

“you’ll find the money from somewhere- it all comes out in the wash”

The solution
  1. Call colleagues out for being inappropriate and change the subject. Make it a teachable moment that this is a socially awkward question that should be off-topic.

  2. Address this with students too. Yes, young people will ask the question because they want to get to know their teachers, but we know there are other ways for them to do this without finding out what their teachers’ family plans are. Take the opportunity to model for students that this is an unacceptable question for them to ask their teacher and anyone else.

  3. Exposing disparity in pay and challenging the gender pay gap in schools is a much more productive way to get personal with colleagues. End the misogynistic questions and work towards smashing stereotypes and making schools a more inclusive and equitable place to be for teachers.