For women who are or become pregnant during a job search, it can be confusing to know when to disclose the pregnancy to an employer. As a professional, you want to be hired for your accomplishments, abilities, and potential to bring value to an organization. However, as an expectant mother, you may have concerns about how pregnancy will impact your chances for securing gainful employment and how best and when to approach pregnancy-related conversations with prospective employers.
This article will explore what accepting a job offer means for you as a pregnant woman, including:
How society values working women and women in leadership
The current state of the workplace for today’s working mothers
Your legal rights and ethical obligations as a pregnant job candidate
How to disclose your pregnancy to an employer after a job offer
Societal views of women leaders and working mothers
There are several elements to consider when it comes to disclosing pregnancy in the workplace, but we can’t talk about pregnancy considerations without also looking at the current climate for working mothers and the status of working women in general.
Though perhaps not always formally acknowledged, the subject of women in the workplace—whether it be in leadership, working mothers, or just working women in general—is, and has long been, extremely controversial and polarizing among corporate America and in society at large. It’s one of those secrets everyone knows. Recognizing this truth is fundamental to women making good decisions about how to handle and communicate family and parenthood responsibilities and plans within professional settings.
Women underrepresented in leadership at the highest levels of society
Since the 19th century, women have sought participation at the highest levels of leadership in the United States—including the presidency. However, none have served, and only one has ever been a major-party nominee. The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) reports the current (2022) number of women in statewide elective executive office at 95, which equates to only 30% of the 310 available executive seats.
Working women rarely represented in the c-suite
A recent, largest-of-its-kind, Women in the Workplace report by McKinsey & Co. and Leanin.org reveals the absence-of-women-in-leadership phenomenon isn’t specific to just public offices. Corporate America doesn’t welcome as many women into executive leadership as you might expect. Forty thousand interviews conducted with women of diverse backgrounds, from 300+ participating organizations that employ more than 12 million people, showed only one in four c-suite leaders is a woman.
Working mothers penalized vs. promoted
The Fatherhood Bonus and Motherhood Penalty: Parenthood and the Gender Gap in Pay report indicates that, though the gender pay gap has been decreasing, the parenthood pay gap is increasing. The report posits that, while fatherhood is a valued characteristic to employers because it signals greater work commitment, stability, and deservingness, the opposite view is true of motherhood. Coined as the “Motherhood Penalty”, working mothers are said to incur a per-child wage penalty.
Given the resistance to women leaders on multiple fronts, the question on the mind of any woman considering becoming pregnant would naturally be, “What does this mean for my work life?”. The facts themselves tell the story of a slow-paced trek, with hard-won advancement towards what women deserve in society and the workplace with, not just an absence of encouragement, but a failure to even acknowledge women’s work contributions throughout history.
What work life is like today for working mothers
The 1987 film Baby Boom was a humorous representation of how childless executive career woman J.C. Wiatt, played by Diane Keaton, could only “have it all”–in the traditional sense of corner office, money, power, promotion–if she remained childless.
While entertaining, you wouldn’t really expect this to be an authentic story line depicting actual treatment of family-oriented women in the workplace in the modern day. Even if there were grains of truth to it, it would seem reasonable to expect that, by now, society and corporate culture should have progressed to a greater understanding of the value of mothers in the workforce. Right?
Fast forward to today where gender disparities in the workplace are still very real—and not just for the average working mother. Actress Emily Blunt shares about her hectic schedule on a movie set, racing home to be with her children every weekend, and having them also be with her on-set several days per week. When absent, Blunt says, “It was amazing how many people asked where my kids were. I thought, ‘I bet Chris Evans isn’t being asked that question, or Andy Garcia, or Jay Duplass.’”
Editors of Motherly comment, “The key thing we are missing is that moms don’t have to just be moms. There are working moms, celebrity moms, entrepreneur moms—all who have the ability to balance motherhood and whatever else they decide to put on their plates. And that’s just it. It’s their decision. Not society’s. Not their male counterparts’. But theirs.”
However, “society” has a way of weighing in. Creating and enforcing effective legislation that ensures women are fairly represented among leadership is the best way for these truths about working women to be surfaced, acknowledged, and supported.
Societal changes hit working mothers harder than fathers
When you hear about the Great Resignation and ask the question “who” is actually resigning, you will learn more women than men have left their jobs. In fact, 46% of mothers who left the workforce in 2021 are still unemployed due to childcare issues.
Those moms who do stick it out in the workplace in the face of impactful social change really only add to their workload. According to the 2022 State of Motherhood Report, 50% of “breadwinning” moms also still manage the majority of household work. This is up 10% from 2018.
No childcare support
The reality is, most parents can’t do it all without reasonable accommodation and support from their employers. Childcare is a universal issue for working parents, or it should be considered as such. Why should it be a “mother’s problem”?
One mother conveys the sentiment of many post-Covid pandemic working women, “I had to take a hard look at how I was managing it all. With no flexibility from my employer and childcare costs completely unmanageable, I reached my breaking point and had to resign.”
Disclosing pregnancy after job offer: what are the legal rights and ethical obligations of pregnant job candidates?
The ideal hiring scenario would be for a pregnant candidate to be just as committed to the job role and responsibilities as the employer is to the employee’s maternity health and experience. However, recognizing that society and corporate America don’t have a particularly rich history of supporting working mothers further complicates a pregnant woman’s entry into the workforce.
What about a pregnant woman’s legal rights? Are there ethical obligations related to disclosure that supersede narrowly defined legalities? Let’s find out by considering them side-by-side in a few real-world scenarios.
Pregnant while interviewing for a job
If you are pregnant at the time of a job interview, are you obligated to disclose it to the hiring manager?
Legally, no. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 prohibits employers, and would-be employers, with 15 or more employees from making job decisions based on pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.
Ethically, no. But if you are to the point where the pregnancy is visibly obvious and you don’t bring it up, it could send the wrong message. You want your potential employer to know you are honest with respect to transparency, and that you have considered how your pregnancy will impact your new role, availability, and future intentions about remaining engaged with the company long-term.
Becoming pregnant shortly after beginning a new job
If you learn you are pregnant after beginning a new job, do you have a responsibility to disclose it to your employer?
Legally, no. Employees cannot be discriminated against based on pregnancy. Discrimination could involve treating an applicant or employee unfavorably in any aspect relating to employment, including hiring, firing, pay, assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, benefits, and any other terms or conditions of employment.
Ethically, no. Women typically do not disclose pregnancy until the end of the first trimester. You will, however, want to plan for conversations around maternity leave as your pregnancy advances to ensure alignment with your employer on timelines, coverage, and return-to-work plans. According to The Mom Project, timing your pregnancy announcement will depend on your specific circumstances at work, but a good rule of thumb is to disclose it before it becomes obvious.
Job includes timeline-dependent responsibilities
If you know at the time of hire or post-offer that you are pregnant, and your role has timeline-dependent responsibilities such as those associated with supporting a launch, release cadences, or other tactically time-sensitive activities, do you have a responsibility to disclose your pregnancy ahead of time?
Legally, no. As employees cannot be discriminated against based exclusively upon pregnancy, it is not required for you to disclose it at all, particularly if it may influence discrimination.
Ethically, maybe. If the timing of key pregnancy stages such as maternity leave, birth, and return to work disrupts important timeline-dependent responsibilities of your job, you have an unfair advantage in knowing this ahead of time whereas your potential employer doesn’t, when planning accommodation may be possible.
Confronted with obvious hiring bias while pregnant
It’s worth remembering that how an employer views and approaches accommodation of pregnancy and parenthood is something you should look at during the interview process with the same scrutiny as you would other core values—whether you’re pregnant at the time or not. If a hiring manager or employer openly expresses bias or doesn’t believe they are required to honor pregnancy-related accommodations, is that a place you really want to be?
How should you disclose pregnancy after a job offer?
As you can see, there are many ways to handle disclosure of your pregnancy, and the decision of how to do so is as unique as you are. As important, however, is that your hiring manager or prospective employer will similarly have widely varying views on the subject as well. Here is some guidance on what you may want to consider, and make decisions about, as you approach conversations with your employer.
Before disclosing your pregnancy
Know your company’s policies around paid leave, family leave, unpaid leave, and related benefits.
Create a maternity leave plan with start and end dates, your accessibility, and your return-to-work plan.
Create a hand-off, coverage, and transition plan for your temporary backfill that includes key contacts, your responsibilities, and potential solutions.
Choose an appropriate time for the disclosure discussion with your employer. Don’t forget to plan to discuss how to disclose your pregnancy to your colleagues, including meeting one-on-one with clients and colleagues, or announcing your pregnancy and maternity leave in a team meeting or email.
Pro Tip: After meeting with your employer, document discussion so you can remember details later to revisit, confirm, or include in your formalized plan.
During your pregnancy experience at work
With pregnancy, everything can become about appointments, baby prep, birth plans, and breastfeeding, making you feel isolated, or like a split personality when in the workplace. Get connected to other pregnant working moms through community forums like What To Expect or Working Momkind.
Women are underrepresented in societal, governmental, and corporate leadership, and penalized financially in the workplace for having children.
Gender disparity continues to position working mothers as the “primary” parent, sparing men from society’s scrutiny of effectively balancing career and fatherhood.
Pregnant women not only have legal rights but also ethical obligations when it comes to disclosing their pregnancy to a potential employer.
Researching and planning before disclosing your pregnancy will prepare you for anticipated questions and make work and maternity discussions go more smoothly.
Pregnant mothers don’t have to feel isolated in the workplace and can connect with other working moms or join online communities of pregnant and working parents.