When I was an executive recruiter at a retained search firm, one of my colleagues placed a pregnant candidate, in her eighth month of pregnancy, in a senior strategy consulting role. Strategy is a demanding job, with frequent travel and volatile hours. The eighth month of pregnancy is when you’re visibly pregnant (so the employer clearly knew), and you are soon-to-be, if not already, not allowed to travel by air. Still, a match was made.
When I was an in-house recruiter at a tech company, one of my candidates for an HR Manager role was in the middle of a pregnancy. She wasn’t as visibly pregnant as the eight-month candidate, so it’s unclear that my hiring group would have known for sure. Yet, she disclosed, was selected for interviews, and went far along the process (she ultimately stayed at her current employer but did refer an excellent candidate to us, so she clearly had a positive experience).
In my 15+ years of recruiting, I have seen multiple instances of pregnant, soon-to-be-pregnant, or recently pregnant/new mum candidates get interviews, callbacks, offers, internal moves, and promotions. What worked for these candidates?
Job search and pregnancy are two very individualised experiences on their own. When you combine them, it goes without saying that any anecdotes, platitudes or even specific strategies I share need to be customised for your specific situation. However, if I look at the two real-life situations I shared – in two very competitive, fast-moving industries and at senior, high-stakes levels – some general patterns do emerge:
The candidates were competitive for their roles.
Pregnancy or no pregnancy, the candidates were competitive. Both had specific skills, expertise, and relevant experience for the roles. In the case of the consultant, she was at a major competitor, she had worked on the specific projects that were a priority for the employer who hired her, and she had a personality that gelled with the team. For the HR candidate, she had experience at another fast-growth tech company, which was a deal-breaker requirement. In both cases, the candidate had something the employer really wanted. Pregnancy or no pregnancy, how competitive are you for the roles you are targeting?
The roles were hard-to-fill and required discerning, flexible employers.
If a job is hard to fill, the employer can’t easily dismiss candidates. There aren’t going to be many candidates when the candidate pool is scarce, so the employer has to consider all of them. The more generic the job, the less likely an employer will have to compromise before finding the right fit. So an employer will simply take the readily available candidate (the path of least resistance) and likely won’t be as accommodating to a pregnancy, a flexible work schedule, a delayed start date or any other non-traditional arrangement. A hard-to-fill job isn’t necessarily unpleasant, difficult, or unreasonably demanding. It just means there are fewer candidates who meet the requirements. Typically, it’s a cutting-edge skill set, a specialised expertise, experience at a certain type of firm (e.g., the employer’s competitors), or experience in certain market conditions (e.g., a turnaround or a growth spurt). In many cases, it’s some combination of rare attributes. How difficult are the roles that you are targeting? Are they difficult enough that the employer will be creative when considering candidates and will fight for the right candidate?
The work would still get done.
In the case of the strategy consultant, the nature of the job involved travel, and the candidate could not travel for a period of time. This needed to be sorted out (in this case, there was a combination of remote work and an emphasis on local projects for a specific period of time). In the case of the HR Manager, the candidate’s delivery and subsequent leave timeline was mapped against key HR deliverables (e.g., benefits enrollment, performance review time) to see what coverage was needed and when. The optimal arrangement comes by collaboration so it is best to disclose the pregnancy during the interview process when both candidate and employer can see if there is a mutually agreeable and beneficial solution. The employer can’t accommodate the candidate if they don’t know what the candidate needs. Similarly, the candidate can’t put herself forward as the best solution to the employer’s problem if she doesn’t know upcoming objectives and timelines in much more detail than would likely be shared in a typical interview situation. Have you figured out what accommodations you need? Do you know enough about your prospective employer’s business objectives that you can outline a plan and timetable for the next 12 months?
The candidate had advocates to keep discussions on track.
There is a lot of waiting in-between interviews and decisions. During this time, the candidate can be forgotten or the employer’s doubts fester and grow. As the job seeker, you need to make sure you stay front of mind during the gaps and keep the employer interested over the entire process. In the case of the strategy consultant, my recruiting colleague was the advocate — checking in on both candidate and employer sides regularly. My colleague was facilitating what arrangements would need to be made to both onboard the candidate if she were to be hired but also to preserve her maternity leave. In the case of the HR Manager search, I was the advocate, ensuring that the pregnant candidate was seen and her timetable and requirements were out in the open. But I was also advocating for the hiring group, setting clear expectations with the candidate on business objectives and deadlines. You don’t necessarily need a recruiter or other intermediary to be your advocate. However, the process can take a long time (with consulting, for example, coordinating the travel schedules of everyone who has to interview really slows the process down). If you, as the candidate, don’t have an active recruiter keeping in touch with you and with the hiring group, you need to stay on top of every stage of the process. Without being inside the company, you can’t as readily interact with all of the decision-makers and know what is holding up the process or possibly derailing your candidacy. An insider, whether the recruiter or someone within the hiring group, is an ideal advocate. Who else is invested in your job search?
The candidate believed in the possibility of a better job right now.
With both the strategy consultant and the HR manager, they raised their hand for these new jobs, while they were pregnant. They did not assume that they would automatically be rejected by the employers. They did not assume that it would be better to wait till after their maternity leave to consider new opportunities. They also came to the interview process with their game face on – brilliantly and competitively interviewing for these roles. If they had not considered the possibility that a better job was available, then they would have taken themselves out of the running at the start. This isn’t to say that every pregnant professional should be actively looking. But if you want to look, but think you can’t because you’re pregnant, reconsider your assumptions. Are you open to the possibility that there is a better job right now, even now?
Source: Ellevate Network