Nearly a year ago Marissa Mayer, chief executive officer of Yahoo, announced on Twitter that she and husband Zackary Bogue were expecting their first child. A veritable media circus prevailed culminating in her infamous two-week maternity leave.
I’ll leave it to technology pundits to debate the success of Ms. Mayer’s tenure but she certainly hasn’t been idle, with an aggressive shopping spree that culminated in a recent $1.1-billion (U.S.) acquisition of Tumblr. Yes, and she managed all this with an infant at home. Surely, many parents with demanding careers can relate to the daily chaos of sleepless nights mixed with professional stress. Thankfully, the media’s fascination with how a high-powered CEO manages to ‘have it all’ has disappeared and in my view, this success story should be celebrated.
Unfortunately, the impact of Yahoo’s decision to appoint a pregnant woman to the role of CEO hasn’t produced the impact I would have hoped. I haven’t seen any other cases of pregnant women being offered C-suite roles, never mind the top job.
In fact, the question of whether or not to reveal your pregnancy while applying for a new role or promotion hasn’t gone away. Logically speaking, pregnancy lasts several months only but it can still be perceived as a long-term handicap. Personally, having a baby increased my enthusiasm for work and I pushed myself to take bigger career risks after each one. That being said, I waited almost five months before admitting to colleagues that I was pregnant with my second child in order to keep my professional options open at a critical time in my career.
While I don’t approve of deception, there remain good reasons to keep news of your pregnancy quiet. Data by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission showed that the number of pregnancy-related discrimination cases has been steadily rising since 1997.
In the United Kingdom, a recent poll showed that one in seven women were made redundant while on maternity leave with over one in 10 reported being replaced by the person who covered their leave.
Even though three-quarters of women entering the labour force will be pregnant and employed at some point in their lives, many employers refuse to make even basic accommodations, especially in low-wage roles, found a recent report by the Washington, D.C.-based National Women’s Law Center.
“I think a pregnant women should be able to [acknowledge her pregnancy in an interview] and it should not affect the decision, but in reality it will affect the hiring decision and I think most women wouldn’t mention it,” said Cathy Gallagher-Louisy, director of community partnerships and knowledge services at the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion.
“There are many men who still express concerns about hiring or promoting women of childbearing age – lest they get pregnant and ‘abandon their responsibilities at work,’” said Ms. Gallagher-Louisy, who acknowledged she heard a man in a senior leadership role use that exact phrase.
This scenario of when – or if – to divulge news of a pregnancy played out recently for one senior manager at a large financial services firm in Canada.
The mother of one with a 15-year tenure at her firm, who asked to remain unnamed, encountered a compelling opportunity at her company and applied for it.
As her pregnancy progressed, and she was invited to a third interview with a senior vice-president, she felt torn and sought the advice of friends and professionals. She decided to share the news with the hiring manger and offered to be flexible with her maternity leave. In the end, she didn’t get the role.
“Many people told me not to say a word and a few were convinced being honest was the only way to go to ensure a good relationship with a future hiring manager,” recalled the senior manager.
“I am happy I did tell; however, I will always wonder if I would have had that job if I wasn’t pregnant and could hit the ground running and stay on ... I will never know for sure.”
So how should a pregnant woman navigate a job interview?
Some out-of-the-box thinkers, such as Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, believe employees should speak freely about their family goals with their managers and I hope we progress to that stage.
Other experts counter with more practical advice.
“It would be naive to think that a current or future boss isn’t going to judge you more critically than they would a non-pregnant candidate or employee. So make sure you are ready to impress,” advised Boston-based Liz O’Donnell, the author of the forthcoming book, Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman and founder of the Hello Ladies blog. “Bring your A-plus game,” she added.
If you are early in your pregnancy, don’t feel any obligation to over share.
“If you’re not showing, you don’t need to address your pregnancy. Be confident that you are the right person for the job and wait until you accept the offer to start discussing your leave.”