One of my dreams is that one day, new parents will live in a world where pregnancy doesn’t complicate the job-searching process. Where having children is seen as a normal part of being a human, rather than as a career obstacle. And where parenthood is seen as a career asset, rather than a liability. But we’re not there yet.
These days, particularly with remote interviewing, concealing a pregnancy during the job-searching process is logistically much easier than it used to be. But whether to conceal it is still a question on new mamas’ minds.
Today, I’m grateful to Jenny Rose, for sharing her own, deeply personal job-searching-while pregnant story with us here on the Mindful Return blog. As you will read, her approach was thoughtful and analytic. While also taking into account the very real and raw feelings that can arise for anyone in this position. My hope is that you’ll take comfort from her story and come to trust in your own decision. Here’s Jenny.
You have every right to seek employment as a pregnant woman.
And in 2018, I did, too.
The biggest challenge we face as pregnant candidates (aside from the whole “being pregnant” part) is the elephant in the room. At what point should we disclose to our future employer that we’re pregnant?
There is no definitive answer here that I can give you – even with my own experience as a job-seeker, Hiring Manager, HR leader, or Professional Certified Coach. We each do the best we can with the resources and circumstances we have at the time.
For me, it was early Summer 2018. I was in Human Resources, doing the most challenging and emotionally taxing job that I had ever experienced (prior to parenting). I was burned out and needed a break. Months prior, I had given my notice, and I planned to take time off before job searching.
All of a sudden, I looked up. It was August, and I was pregnant and unemployed.
It was time to assess my choices.
I had the ability to conceal my pregnancy, as I was just entering my second trimester and not quite showing. My interviewers had never met me before. And my bump was nothing that a loose flowy blouse with an open blazer couldn’t hide.
My 3 Pregnant While Job-Searching Options
I thought about the approaches I could take with prospective employers, but it felt like a no-win situation. Here were the options I explored:
- Be forthcoming – If I disclose that I’m pregnant up front, will I lose an opportunity that I’m qualified for, because of some biased and shortsighted decision-maker? Might they select someone who is less qualified but who won’t be the “burden” that they may perceive me to be?
- Conceal. Don’t feel. Don’t let it show – If I DON’T disclose that I’m pregnant, will they figure it out on their own? Will they judge me? Will the hiring committee think I’ve been disingenuous for NOT telling them I’m pregnant once I finally DO tell them?
- The “wait and see” approach – If I disclose that I’m pregnant once I receive an offer, will I shoot myself in the foot and be unable to negotiate that offer? If I wait until I’ve negotiated and accepted the offer, will my new boss be upset or resentful when they find out?
Two of my most deeply held values are meaningful relationships and integrity. But I also live in the real world, and bias is a thing – both conscious and unconscious.
One might argue that if the employer wouldn’t hire you knowing the full truth, you wouldn’t want to work for them anyway. I didn’t feel that I had the luxury of that perspective. My husband and I were preparing to bring a human into the world. And she would come with a lot of new expenses. I had to work.
If you have ever struggled with a similar situation, please know that you are not alone.
My Own Definition of Success
What I needed to do was to define success for myself. For me, success would look like this:
- Obtaining employment ASAP that met my “need-to-haves” and as many of my “nice-to-haves” as possible.
- Meeting my needs as a pregnant woman and working parent. This would include flexibility for doctors’ appointments, maternity leave, and time off for the inevitable daycare illnesses to come.
- Doing everything I could to create goodwill and establish a mutually respectful relationship with my new employer. I knew the relationship with my new boss and colleagues would be very important to my overall work-life satisfaction.
The number of months remaining before my April due date were dwindling. So I made my choice.
I went with the “wait and see” approach, choosing not to take the risk that bias might prevent my employment. I threw on my loose-fitting blouse and hid my pregnant body underneath it. The story I told myself is that I was keeping my personal information private. But it was hard not to feel some shame.
Eight weeks after embarking on my job search, I received an offer for a new position. I waited until after receiving and negotiating the offer before disclosing. Then I reached out to my new supervisor to propose a lunch date, where I planned to share my private news in person. I was incredibly nervous about what she would say and more importantly what she would think of me. How might it impact our relationship going forward?
I’ll even admit, though I know my labor laws inside and out as an HR professional, I still somehow had this fear that my offer would be rescinded.
I was nervous when I told my new boss, but I did it. She seemed very surprised, but she was incredibly supportive and warm. I felt so relieved and grateful. When I started my job, my new colleagues were welcoming and happy for me, and I was lucky to have the support of my new boss, department, and organization. I had survived.
I wholly acknowledge that things could have gone a very different way.
While it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, I had done what I needed to do to achieve my vision of success. The most important thing I did aside from defining success was to explore my options under the circumstances and be intentional with my choices, aligning them to my values.
My experience is just one data point. At the end of the day, you must trust yourself. Ultimately YOU are the one with the answer. You choose.
And it helps to have some moral support along the way.
If you don’t have a built-in support system, my best advice is to create one. The smartest thing I did as a pregnant and unemployed job-seeker was to recruit 4 of my close friends to my job search accountability team. Their role was to cheer me on. My role was to follow through on my commitments.
Three years later, as a Career, Leadership, and Life Coach, I now help my clients define success, harness their support networks, and navigate their own challenges and opportunities to create the life they choose.
Jenny Rose is a Career, Leadership, and Life Coach who partners with her clients to live the life they choose. She brings more than 12 years of experience coaching leaders across industries, is a Certified Professional Coach (CPC), Society for Human Resources Management Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP), and holds an MBA in Managerial and Organizational Behavior from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Jenny lives in Chicago with her husband and 2.5-year-old daughter. When she’s not coaching and parenting, she loves spending quality time with friends and testing out new personal and professional experiments.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave
Thank you for sharing your story. It’s such a nerve wracking experience to go through. I went to this past year and I also use the wait-and-see approach, and one employee stopped answering me after I disclosed (despite having given me an offer!), and another pushed back my start date (after I disclosed) several weeks so that I would fall short of three months and wouldn’t be entitled to benefits! I’m glad your experience went well.
Wow to Kelsey’s experience! I also was job searching while pregnant, but in a bit of a different situation. I was very early on (8 weeks) and didn’t want to tell most people, let alone prospective employers. By the time I started, I was 12 weeks along, but still wanted to wait a bit to prove myself as a new employee before dropping what I thought was unfortunate news. At 16 weeks, I shared with my boss and her boss, and they were amazingly supportive. I was so relieved! It was the best possible scenario, but I’m still glad I waited a bit to feel like I had proven myself as a new employee before “asking for time off.” They couldn’t tell I was pregnant because they didn’t know what I looked like before, and I wasn’t showing much even at the end. I agree about wanting to be transparent and generate goodwill, but I also realize there are biases and wanted to be careful and protect myself in the process. Love that you’re sharing your experiences and tips!