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ANDREA YU | March 7, 2022
This article is part of a package produced by the Globe Women’s Collective aligned to International Women’s Day and this year’s theme of #BreakTheBias.
Faye Pang had already given notice of her upcoming pregnancy to the tech company she worked at when a recruiter reached out to her. They were looking to fill a senior-level role as a country manager for accounting software company Xero.
“I was about four-and-a-half months pregnant [at the time],” Ms. Pang recalls. “Job hunting was the furthest thing from my mind.’”
From that very first call, Ms. Pang was honest with the recruiter. “I said, ‘We’re on Zoom, but under this desk, there’s a belly,’” she says.
In the new normal of remote hiring and work, women have gained more agency over when and how to disclose a pregnancy to prospective employers. Despite Ms. Pang informing the recruiter that she was expecting, their interest held strong.
“[The recruiter] was very quick to say, ‘That’s not a factor for us. And if you’re the right candidate, then we will support you in whatever way you need,’” she says.
Normalizing job-hunting while pregnant
Shafina Coelho is a career coach with Moms at Work, a professional association for working mothers. She says that she’s happy to see women being headhunted and securing new jobs despite disclosing a pregnancy. She points to high profile hires like Marissa Mayer, who landed her CEO position at Yahoo while six months pregnant, as helping to normalize the trend.
Employers may be more willing to accommodate the needs of candidates with executive-level experience or niche skills, Ms. Coelho says. However, with The Great Resignation straining recruitment efforts, lower and mid-level workers who are pregnant may find themselves with more leverage than they’d expect.
Ms. Coelho says that the most common question she gets from pregnant job searchers is: When do I tell my potential employer that I’m pregnant?
“Do you do it right up front during the interview process? Or do you do it after the offer has been made? Do you do it after you start working?” she says. “It can cause a lot of stress and anxiety.”
There is no right time to disclose a pregnancy, according to Ms. Coelho, as it depends on many factors. “Some women have had miscarriages and they’re not comfortable sharing that information,” she says. “Some women don’t want to risk losing the opportunity. Some say, ‘I don’t want to be dishonest with my employer.’ Some ask, ‘Will the employer resent me for having to work around me?’”
For those concerned that disclosing could affect their chances of securing a role, Ms. Coelho recommends disclosing after a job has been offered. However, women that feel stress or anxiety about withholding may feel more comfortable disclosing sooner.
According to Alia Besharat, a Toronto-based employment lawyer at Monkhouse Law, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against a woman because they are pregnant. However, an employer can still choose another candidate for other reasons, making it hard to provide evidence for discrimination of this nature.
“It is a very high threshold to meet,” Ms. Besharat says. “It’s very difficult to evidence actual discrimination because you’re not going to have a smoking gun to say, ‘They discriminated me based on this one factor.’”
A litmus test for workplace culture
Ms. Besharat reminds those switching jobs while pregnant to consider parental and health benefit policies, especially for companies that top-up maternity leave pay. Some organizations may require prospective parents to work a certain amount of time, such as three months or six months, before they’re eligible to receive benefits including parental leave top-ups. But those who fall short of eligibility timelines may want to talk to their employer and see if they’re willing to accommodate them.
“[You could] say, ‘Maybe I don’t have the requisite hours for the top up, but I do plan on staying with the company,” Ms. Besharat says.
Women are only required to give two weeks’ notice for taking maternity leave, she notes. In the era of Zoom meetings and working from home, it’s easier to keep a pregnancy under wraps for longer. However, doing so can leave a negative impression on employers who need to plan a replacement, so informing an employer during the hiring stage is good practice, she says.
On the other hand, Ms. Coelho points out that not all women have the luxury to disclose early. Those under pressure to complete the minimum number of hours to be eligible for maternity leave employment insurance benefits might disclose as late as possible. (During the pandemic, that threshold was changed from 600 to 420 hours in the 52 weeks prior to taking leave, in effect until September 24, 2022.)
Regardless of when you give notice, your employer’s reaction and ability to accommodate can serve as a litmus test for workplace culture.
“You see how the company is going to treat you,” Ms. Coelho says. “Do you want to work for a company that would discriminate against a pregnant woman? Do you want to work for a company that’s not going to accept you as a whole person and accept your family life?”
No such thing as perfect timing
As Ms. Pang learned more about the opportunity at Xero, she realized it was a role that she couldn’t pass up. It would be a great learning opportunity with new responsibilities to further her career and a step up from her previous job, she thought. Furthermore, Xero offered to honour their parental leave benefits to Ms. Pang from day one, meaning that she’d qualify for their 26-week parental leave top-up.
She received a job offer in November 2020, one week before her due date and immediately went on a three-month maternity leave.
“I’m a big believer that your pregnancy status should not factor into whether or not you go for that job or that promotion,” Ms. Pang says. “There is no such thing as perfect timing. There’s just the perfect opportunity. So I forged ahead.”