Searching for a job is a daunting process. By the time you make it to the interview stage, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and ready to say anything to land a fulfilling job — or at least something that pays the bills. The pressure to appear to be the perfect candidate may cause you to withhold personal information that could hurt your chances. That being said, you also don’t want a potential employer to think you are hiding something. Although employment discrimination based on pregnancy is illegal, it is naive to believe that it never happens. Those who are newly pregnant — or hope to be within a year or so — may fearfully keep that to themselves during their job search.
While I certainly do not blame anyone that chooses to not disclose their pregnancy in a job interview, we should make a collective effort not to reinforce workplace cultures that are not invested in the health and wellness of their employees. It reflects a company’s values when the well-being of employees takes a backseat to how much capital or labor they produce. Companies should not support pregnant workers because they’re required to, they should build family planning into their business model.
It is true that pregnant job applicants tend to receive more scrutiny than non-pregnant applicants. However, research has found that applicants who directly confronted pregnancy stereotypes during their interview process were nearly “three times less likely to experience interpersonal discrimination” than the pregnant applicants who said nothing. Innate discrimination can occur when someone is visibly pregnant, but honest disclosure about pregnancy and abilities can dispel the negative beliefs a hiring manager may hold toward pregnant employees. While the risk of disclosure should not be on the pregnant woman, this study could help those who are willing to start a dialogue about pregnancy within the workplace. This information could lead to policy changes that support pregnant women throughout more industries.
Researchers listed four stereotypes of pregnant employees — incompetence, lack of commitment, inflexibility and the need for accommodation. Increased pregnancy visibility could spur training implementation to dispel stereotypes that claim pregnant workers are less valuable than non-pregnant employees. An extremely common stereotype about pregnant employees is that they will need inordinate accommodations after their baby is born. Changing this perspective requires more than better human resources training – America needs a paradigm shift.
Currently, the only federal law about maternity leave is under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees just 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a year of giving birth or adopting. Basically, an employer cannot fire a worker for having a child and can’t give away the job, but workers won’t make any money during that time. The company must also have more than 50 employees and an employee must have worked there for a year to even qualify.
Companies in the United States are not mandated to pay employees during some of the most exhausting times of their lives, and this needs to change. Some workers may apply for short-term disability or use accumulated sick and vacation days, but are still faced with dismal healthcare costs. America needs institutional changes like guaranteed paid maternity leave and universal childcare, eliminating employer concerns about accommodations. Clearly, awareness can start now by normalizing pregnancy in the workplace.
Writer Allyson Downey said that there are basically two perspectives about the importance of disclosure. “The first believes you could potentially harm your long-term relationship if you’re not upfront,” Downey said. “The second is adamant that it’s as relevant to your hire as would be a herniated disk for which you’ll need surgery six months down the line.”
Forbes featured the stories of a few women and the positive outcomes they experienced after disclosing their pregnancy while interviewing. One woman found out she was pregnant in the midst of a six-month-long interview process for Nickelodeon, and she felt no choice but to tell the hiring manager. She faced challenges, but was still able to rise to chief marketing officer and president of consumer products.
Another woman was already seven months pregnant when she was offered a contract with Spotify. There was no hiding the pregnancy even if she wanted to, but she said Spotify did not view it as liability. She was able to work up until the birth and said that she couldn’t even imagine being happy in a job that didn’t value a pregnant employee.
While these positive examples of disclosure are on the corporate level and in the entertainment industry, we cannot mistake the exception for the rule. Still, if we are able to make fundamental changes in national and state policies, more companies and corporations will feel empowered to hire people who are about to start a family. It will create a better cycle of support, commitment and trust between employees and employers, and future pregnant workers will not feel pressured to hide anything.