Having a baby can be one of the most exciting times in your life. But if you’re on the job search while nurturing a tiny life inside you, you might be more than a little overwhelmed.
And for good reason: According to Tallahassee-based attorney James Garrity, who’s handled more than 2,000 employment discrimination cases, pregnancy discrimination is still a very serious problem. “It’s a fact that women who are pregnant have a vastly more difficult time getting hired than women who are not,” he says.
But this is not to say that getting hired is impossible. (In fact, it’s illegal for companies not to hire you because you’re pregnant — more on this later.) Before you step into an interview, read this.
Know That Laws Protect You
As mentioned, pregnancy discrimination is still rampant in the workforce. But laws do protect you from discrimination, says employment lawyer Cynthia Thomas Calvert, president of Workforce 21C. And, by law, “employers cannot require you to disclose your pregnancy.”
In fact, it’s illegal for potential employers to even ask. If someone does ask while you’re being interviewed, Mary Ellen Slayter, career advice expert for Monster.com, suggests turning it back on them and asking a nonchalant question to nip the topic in the bud, like: “Oh, would it affect the recruiting process if someone were pregnant?”
That said, while the law is clear, how you feel about keeping that information to yourself and how employers handle your pregnancy if you do tell them can fall into a gray area.
“Although it is illegal for employers to discriminate against women who are pregnant during the hiring process, it is possible that they will attribute your not being selected for the position to something unrelated when, in fact, your pregnancy was the main reason they chose not to hire you,” says Michael Lan, senior resume consultant at Resume Writer Direct. “In the event that this happens, you have no choice but to give them the benefit of the doubt. However, if they rescind the job offer after you disclose your pregnancy, there could be a case made for pregnancy discrimination.”
Have a Plan for Revealing (or Not)
The decision of whether to reveal the fact that you’re pregnant is a personal matter — and, to be frank, may be based almost entirely on how far along you are at the time you go in for an interview.
“It’s difficult to know how and when to tell potential employers you’re pregnant, especially if you’re not showing yet,” Slayter says. “If you’re in your first trimester, you might not have even told your closest friends about your pregnancy.”
Joan Fradella, an accountant and purchasing agent in West Palm Beach, FL, who went on two job interviews on her due date, says that there was no hiding her obvious pregnancy, but she still didn’t bring it up. “In the past, I have interviewed knowing I had a family vacation I had no intention of canceling even if I was to be offered the job. I didn’t bring that up, because it is not [the company’s] business during an interview,” she says. “It is not legal for [the interviewer] to ask, so it should not be construed as dishonest if you tell him or her later rather than sooner.” Her advice? Even if you’re showing, don’t acknowledge your pregnancy if you’d prefer not to.
Fradella, Slayter, and Lan agree that the best time to share your news is when you have a firm job offer. “Waiting to disclose a pregnancy until you’ve accepted or started the position can make your new employer lose trust in you,” Slayter says. “You also lose the chance to negotiate for leave. Everybody loses.”
Research Flex Options Before Applying
Finding the right company may be more important than finding the ideal job for now, because a more flexible workplace will likely be more accommodating to you, says Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs.
“I founded my company after being laid off when I was seven months pregnant with my first child,” she says. “Pregnant women should know that a lot of flexible work options are out there, so be on the lookout for opportunities like telecommuting jobs and companies with flexible scheduling. These companies that may be more accommodating and understanding that you’re a fully qualified professional who also happens to be pregnant, and that they don’t need to worry about hiring you.”
To find out what companies offer, plug keywords like “telecommute,” “virtual,” “remote,” “distributed team,” “flexible scheduling,” and “flexible hours” into job search websites to see what comes up. “You can also pinpoint companies known for offering flexible work options by looking at lists like Working Mother’s Best Companies for Working Moms and FlexJobs Top 100 Companies with Remote Jobs in 2015,” Sutton Fell adds.
Lan also advises contacting a company’s human resources department directly, without giving your name, to ask about company culture and benefits they offer. While this may seem sneaky or even creepy, you could find out valuable information about flextime, day care, and so on. Or you might consider calling a recruiter to get inside intel on companies. And make the most of your LinkedIn network by speaking with a connection who currently works or used to work at a company you’re considering.
It goes without saying that dressing professionally is a must for any job interview, no matter what. But when you’re pregnant, getting dressed for any occasion can be challenging as your body changes. If you’re not disclosing your pregnancy in the interview, you want to be extra cautious about what you wear and how it fits.
“Luckily, there are more attractive options now than ever before,” says Slayter. “Old Navy, Ann Taylor, and A Pea in the Pod all offer work-friendly maternity clothing. If you aren’t showing obviously yet, consider buying an interview outfit a size up from what you usually wear, so your interview suit doesn’t look too tight. Layers and styles with roomier waistlines can also buy you a little time.”
Meet Biases Head-On
If your pregnancy is obvious at the time of your interview, and you feel more comfortable addressing the elephant in the room rather than avoiding it, be sure to have a planned explanation about how you will excel in the role for which you’re being considered.
“Pregnancy discrimination is often based on biases about how pregnant women will or should act as employees, such as that they will be too tired or too sick to work, they will have ‘pregnancy brain,’ and they will not be committed to their job,” Calvert explains. “These biases may be open and blatant, or hidden and unconscious. Regardless, they affect the hiring process.”
She suggests saying something along the lines of: “I enjoy being a sales manager, and I want you to know that if you hire me, I will work very hard to be the best manager I can be. I’m committed to my career and to helping people who work with me do their best. I know we’ll have to work out some logistics based on my pregnancy, and I have ideas for how we can do that.”
Another way of addressing your pregnancy, courtesy of Garrity, might be: “Would you mind if we talked for a moment about my pregnancy and ways to allow me to continue being productive before and after giving birth? I’ve got lots of ideas that I think you will love.”
Explain Your Remote Capabilities
Being able to work from home all or some of the time after giving birth may be a priority for you. It’s important to come to the interview equipped with information on how that might work, if you do indeed disclose your pregnancy.
“Even now it is not unusual to encounter supervisors and human resource officials who are unfamiliar with the many tools for conducting work remotely,” Garrity says — so use your second or third interview to address any concerns. “Be prepared to talk about remote access, videoconferencing software, occasional pickups and drop-offs of essential documents, and security of data you may access from home.”
As far as getting some face time in while you’re working remotely is concerned, he adds that most companies also have some version of free or low-cost videoconferencing software. Even if they don’t, you could suggest that you and your supervisor use Skype to connect face-to-face when needed. “These are all viable options that will allow you to keep pace with the workflow,” he says.
Be Up-Front About Leave Time
Another point to bring up if you’re showing while interviewing is your proposed plan for maternity leave. “Some employers wrongly believe women sign on for the benefits as new employees and then don’t return after giving birth,” Garrity says. “Be clear about the date or time frame you expect to take leave, and the date you expect to return. Your best approach is to provide the employer with specific information about the probable period of absence.” He suggests addressing it with both HR and the person who will be your immediate supervisor.
Wondering how to put it? Be proactive and upbeat. “It might go something like this: ‘I’d also like to share my thoughts on accomplishing all your goals for the position during the last several weeks of my pregnancy and once I begin leave,’” he suggests. “Then map out something simple on how you’ll do it. For example: ‘I’ve had no complications and I don’t expect any, so my plan is to work right up until I deliver and then to take X weeks off. While I’m out my thought is to work from my home office. It’s quiet, secure with a locked door, and no one uses the computer, printer, video conference equipment, and fax except me.’”
By showing you have a plan in place and are excited to return to your position, you alleviate stereotyped notions that employers may already have about you. Granted, they shouldn’t consider you any differently than they would a non-pregnant hire, but the fact is, they likely will.
Reiterate Your Commitment
Sending a thank-you note after the interview is always a good practice. But there are some additional elements you’ll want to include in this message to drive home the fact that you are ready and willing to work despite your pregnancy, if it was in fact brought up during the interview.
“Express your genuine appreciation for the interview and for the frank and candid discussion about your pregnancy and maternity leave,” Garrity advises. “Tell them that it is refreshing to encounter a company that is so open-minded about allowing women to balance work and family. Tell them that you will continue to explore and discuss ways to get the work done during your leave. Give examples, if you can, to show that you are actually applying your proposals to the work you would be doing.”