Head to Head: Should People Disclose Their Pregnancy in Job Interviews?
November 13, 2019
Two of our opinion writers, Morgan Barron and Paij Chavez, have differing opinions on the advantages and disadvantages of disclosing pregnancy status in job interviews.
Barron: Reproductive Planning Should Not Be a Part of Job Interviews
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.
Chavez: Pregnancy Disclosure May Do More Good Than Harm in Job Interviews
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.