The two blue lines appeared a few days before I finished my master’s degree. Over the next few weeks there was a flurry of graduation celebrations, sending out resumes and cover letters, telling friends and family the good news, and trying to keep the nausea at bay.
I was excited, if not a bit nervous, for all of the changes that were happening in my life. The timing was nearly perfect, I thought. I had just finished my thesis defense without having to run out of the room in search of a trash can to vomit in, and also had plenty of time to find a job and get situated there before the baby was due.
And as luck would have it, I soon found a job for which I was perfectly qualified. Having spent my last year of school training undergraduates how to interview subjects on their drug and alcohol use, I found a posting looking for applicants to interview study participants about none other than their drug and alcohol use. It was perfect. If anything I was overqualified, but the economy was just beginning to revive itself and I was happy to take what I could find.
I sailed through the first interview, and at the very end I decided to act on the advice the career center gave me: I disclosed my pregnancy. “Shouldn’t be a problem at all,” my interviewer assured me.
The second round, however, was much different than the first. This interviewer asked me what town I lived in, a question or two about my background, and then spent the rest of the time grilling me on my pregnancy. She wanted to know when I was due, if I could guarantee that I would be able to attend a conference a week before my due date, why I wanted to apply for the job if I was pregnant, and even noted that I wasn’t the type of person she typically hires for this work.
A week later, I got an email informing me that I did not get the job.
In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act which made it illegal to refuse to hire women who were or could become pregnant, as well as to deny job opportunities, deny promotions, fire, demote, or force women to stop working on the basis of pregnancy.
Nearly 40 years later, however, women are still being treated differently than other people with short term medical needs, solely because they are pregnant. Between 2010 and 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 22,241 reports of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. And this number only reflects cases that were filed – it doesn’t include women who didn’t file a complaint because they were afraid of retaliation, didn’t know their rights, or were simply too busy with a new baby on the way.
Being pregnant makes it harder for women to find work. Pregnant women are more likely to face interpersonal discrimination when applying for jobs, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
Researchers from Rice University found that women who were visibly pregnant and seeking work were met with more hostility – furrowed brows, rude treatments, or conversations ending prematurely – than non-pregnant women.
Working mothers are, on average, paid less than their male counterparts. And that’s only if they can get a job in the first place. Mothers in general are less likely to be hired than childfree women, and even if they do get the position, they're offered a lower salary.
African American women face even more discrimination, accounting for 28.6 percent of EEOC pregnancy complaints, while making up only 14.3 percent of the female labor force. Women in low wage fields make up the majority of complaints, and suffer more from the loss of wages than their higher income counterparts.
After receiving my rejection letter, I worked up the courage to send an email to the human resources department of the organization that had declined to hire me. In record time, I received a phone call from a flustered-sounding representative.
“Oh, you absolutely were not turned down for the position because of your pregnancy,” she tried to assure me. “It was because you don’t live in the town where the job is.”
This answer certainly surprised me. When I pointed out to her that not only did I live in that town, but it had been the first question of the interview while the rest focused on my pregnancy, she grew even more flustered. She told me that I should reapply, as she could tell from my resume that not only was I qualified, but the job would in fact be perfect for a new mother.
Because the interviewer who refused to hire me would be my supervisor, I decided against reapplying.
My belly kept growing, and being unemployed was an additional weight for me to carry through my pregnancy. I briefly considered taking legal action, but at the time I wasn't familiar with the EEOC, and my primary focus was on finding a job and preparing for my new baby.
Eventually, I applied for another job. During the interview I held my breath, sucked in my belly the best I could, and prayed that the flowy top I picked out would disguise my secret. When I received the job offer, I told my boss that I was expecting and we discussed a plan for my start date, maternity leave, and a schedule that accommodated both our needs.
Three months after I had the baby, I was excited to return to my career and grateful to be working in an environment that valued me and my family.
In 2004, President-Elect Donald Trump called pregnancy an “inconvenience” for the employer, an attitude which few so boldly admit to but nevertheless has significant ramifications for women in the workplace.
Over two-thirds of women with children under the age of six are currently employed or looking for work outside of the home, meaning pregnancy discrimination affects a large portion of American workers simply trying to care for their children.
Pregnancy discrimination hurts women, families, children, and even businesses who then miss out on opportunities to hire hard-working employees. Above all, considering a woman’s pregnancy before her qualifications and skills is illegal, and for the sake of our families and workplaces, a form of discrimination we should have moved past a long time ago.
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