To Share or Not to Share: Family Planning and the Job Market

I just got off the phone with a close friend who is currently on the job market–and initiating the adoption process. She is now thinking through her family planning decisions and the impact, if any, they might have on her job search and eventual employment.

Starting a family can be a wonderful, overwhelming experience fraught with ups and downs, pain and joy. Throwing a job search into this mix of emotions (and for some, physical changes) can lead to a bevy of questions: How will an employer react if I am visibly pregnant? If I have an interview scheduled, should I disclose my pregnancy before the interview? Or tackle the issue once I arrive? What if I know I’m pregnant, but I’m not showing yet? What if I accept a position and then get a call from the adoption agency?

While these are difficult questions, and responses will vary from person to person, depending on many factors (including your own personal values), there are some strategies you can employ to think through the pros and cons, and the ramifications, if any, of your decisions around family planning.

Thinking through potential scenarios can significantly reduce your stress around this topic. Still, it is important to recognize that things may not necessarily happen according to plan, and being willing to accept some ambiguity will also help with stress reduction.

As you begin this process, consider your priorities, on your own and/or with your partner. Are you close to graduation byt anxious to get started with a family? Can you delay for a year if you are currently pregnant? Or are you in a position financially where you need to find work as soon as possible? Again, your responses will be as varied as your personalities.

If you are planning to get pregnant in the near future or considering adoption, there is no need to disclose your plans to an employer–unless and until there is something to disclose. And even then, your decision is your own. Regardless of how far along you are, you need not disclose your pregnancy or adoption plans in a cover letter. This document is used to demonstrate your potential fit and ultimate contribution to an employer and should focus on your qualifications and experiences as they relate to the job.

Once contacted for an interview, you will have another decision to make. Should you disclose a pregnancy or adoption that is in the very early stages? Not necessarily, but again, thinking through the pros and cons of disclosure will be helpful in calming your nerves. Being in the early stages introduces uncertainty, and you may decide not to disclose at this point. If you do decide to disclose at this point, you should recognize that your disclosure may introduce bias on the part of the employer or hiring committee.

If you are noticeably pregnant, or are in the final stages of completing an adoption, it may make more sense to disclose–and I would recommend doing so before the interview so as not to catch your potential employer by surprise. You can address it simply in an email or phone conversation, e.g.: “I’d like to let you know before my visit that I am 5 months pregnant, but I intend to work full-time before and after my baby arrives. I am excited about this opportunity, as your drug development team has been growing so quickly….” I would encourage you to change the course of the conversation quickly from your family plans to the job at hand, whether you decide to disclose in advance or in person.

On a related note, be sure to think through how much time you might like to take after the baby arrives.  The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is in place to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave–but only after 12 months of employment. If a pregnancy or adoption occurs after you have accepted a position, think strategically about how to manage that situation. What can you contribute before the arrival of your new family member? Is there work you can realistically accomplish while on leave? And when do you intend to return to work? Positioning yourself as a professional who has thought through the myriad ways a new child will impact your work may help to engender respect from your new colleagues.

Managing pregnancy or adoption coupled with a job search is a tricky situation to navigate. If you have lingering questions after this post, please do send them along. It would also be wonderful for parents past, present, and future, to hear about your experiences in this situation. Post a comment or story on this topic if you feel comfortable sharing. We could all benefit from hearing. 🙂

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