Barron: Reproductive Planning Should Not Be a Part of Job Interviews


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By Morgan Barron, Opinion Writer

The set of questions asked in most job interviews often include, “What are you passionate about?” and “Can you tell me about a difficult work situation and how you overcame it?” While a little cliché, these questions give potential employers insight into a candidate’s motivation or ability to work with existing employees. Sadly, many women must clear a few more hurdles in the interview process, including blatantly sexist questions about their family planning.

When an employer asks, “Are you pregnant or do you plan to get pregnant in the future?” the woman applicant is put in an uncomfortable position. If she pushes back against the question, she risks displeasing the interviewer and losing the opportunity. If she answers, they may question her commitment to work and see her as a liability. A woman’s ability or desire to have children does not preclude her from being an asset to a company. If her pregnancy will not affect her ability to do her job, she should not feel forced to answer this question. To prevent pregnancy discrimination, to avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes and to protect the privacy of their family, women should never be required to tell a potential employer if she is currently pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

Global business executive Dr. Robin Moriarty knows from experience how much gender expectations impact the interview process and how playing into or out of these expectations can hurt an applicant: “You risk [appearing] too committed to your family while at the same time being not committed enough.” She asked many of her male colleagues if they had been ever asked about family responsibilities during interviews and none had, even as the number of stay-at-home dads is on the rise. Requiring only women to discuss pregnancy with a potential employer condones a culture of workplace sexism and reinforces stereotypes about caregivers.

Forcing a woman to self-report her pregnancy or family planning will likely affect her opportunities and cost her financially. While participating in a 2008 survey, only 5% of supervisors reported having hired a candidate they knew was pregnant compared to 76% of supervisors who said they would not hire someone if they knew they were going to become pregnant within six months of starting. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, illegal discrimination in the workplace cost pregnant women between $51.8 million and $125.6 million in 2016.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. Pregnancy-based discrimination, however, is difficult to prove, as one Utah woman discovered. Melisa George learned how parenthood is penalized for women in the workplace. After her supervisor made inappropriate comments about her breastfeeding, George filed a complaint with the Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division, the state agency tasked with statutes like Title VII. “They thought I was just a young kid complaining,” George said after her complaint was dismissed due to a lack of evidence. The Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division rules in favor of the employee only 0.7% of the time, making pregnancy discrimination essentially unchecked in Utah. While it may appear that women should not work at companies that have a culture of pregnancy discrimination, this discrimination is so pervasive it may compromise their ability to find a job anywhere. It is unconscionable to mandate pregnancy reporting during job interviews when the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is so rarely enforced.

I hope to one day be sharing the news that my partner and I are pregnant with our friends and family, but I cannot imagine making this announcement to a potential employer during an interview. My pregnancy would have no impact on my qualifications as an engineer and sharing it would feel like I am giving the company access to my personal life. It can also be more complicated than a mere announcement, as 10% to 15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, typically in the first trimester. Being forced to announce an early pregnancy may place me into a situation where I have to address my miscarriage with my supervisor, an individual who does not need to be privy to that information.

Forcing women to discuss family planning with an employer during an interviewer is a patronizing invasion of privacy. It invites employers to illegally discriminate against women and mothers. An interview should be a place for applicants to highlight their strengths and discuss what they would bring to the company, and no candidate should have to switch from discussing their resume to discussing their reproductive system.

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