You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.
Or Have You?
Are pregnant women and moms profiled during job interviews? Should pregnancy and family responsibilities damage your career plans? Local women have learned first hand. (Gentlemen, you should read this, too.)
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The interviewer smooths a crisp new pad of paper and clicks a pen printed with my prospective employer’s corporate logo. Thoughts start to race through my head.
Am I showing through my black maternity blazer? Maybe he’ll think I’m just not skinny. They wouldn’t dare ask, right?
Keep smiling. Look engaged. Stop tapping your foot.
Oh no. He just asked if I had family. It’s really just me and my husband right now. Is saying that a lie? Wait, is he allowed to ask that?
What if I get an offer? Should I take it before my belly becomes obvious? No one will hire me then, right?
The percentage of working moms has soared from 63 percent of 25- to 34-year-old women in 1975 to 81 percent in 1999, with 82 percent of women having children by the time they are 44.
So why did I think that interviewing while pregnant was taboo? The more I asked other mothers, the more I learned they felt the same way.
And why wouldn’t they? A Cornell University study finds mothers are 44 percent less likely to be hired than non-mothers who have the same résumé, experience and qualifications. Mothers are offered significantly lower starting pay for the same job as equally qualified non-mothers. (Study participants offered non-mothers an average of $11,000 more than mothers.) And a college graduate who becomes a mom can expect to forfeit nearly $1 million dollars during her working life.
The employer’s fear is that the mother, usually the lead caretaker of the household, will be distracted by family responsibilities, making her a less valuable worker—regardless of the reality.
Delaware law is consistent with federal laws that protect women from discrimination in the workplace, yet the state has no law that specifically protects pregnant women.
“The rate of discrimination against working mothers has gone up so much, it’s become a new area of specialization in the legal profession,” says Marie Laberge, president of the Delaware Chapter of the National Organization of Women. “The reality is there is a large number of women in the workforce. It is incumbent upon us to find ways to make it possible for them to be with their families—both men and women. We are responsible for this, as we are raising the next generation. Parents should not be punished for it.”
Pregnancy discrimination complaints have risen over the past decade. In 2005 the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 4,449 complaints, which employers paid more than $11 million to settle.
Adria Martinelli is a senior associate in the Employment Department at the law firm of Young Conaway Stargatt and Taylor in Wilmington. She represents employers in discrimination cases and speaks frequently on family responsibility and pregnancy discrimination. She’s also a working mom.
“When there’s a good economy, there is more focus on retaining employees versus cutting costs,” Martinelli says. “As the economy turns south, we’re likely to see more cases, as there are often costs associated with accommodating a woman with children.”
The number of single moms in America rose from 3 million in 1970 to 10 million in 2003. Imagine the challenges they face. As sole caregivers, they need flexible work schedules, quality benefits and reasonable childcare costs. Part-time work would be ideal for many, since full-time childcare consumes most of a paycheck, but most jobs do not offer benefits for part-time positions. A quarter of new poverty spells start when a baby is born.
Brenda Goebel Denesowicz of Hockessin was single and pregnant at 23. “I chose to have a day care in my home, as I felt I did not have a chance in hell of finding a job while six months pregnant,” Denesowicz says. “I also wanted to raise my daughter without putting her in a ‘center,’ as they were called 14 years ago.”
Denesowicz also went to school and tended bar to make ends meet. When she became an aesthetician, different challenges emerged. “Being a single parent is hard in the salon industry,” she says. “We do not normally have paid sick leave, and long hours are the norm.”
During a staff meeting at her Wilmington salon, Denesowicz’s employer recognized her for selling the most products and having the most new clients. But the proud moment turned sour when her employer pointed out that she wasn’t working to capacity—150 percent of the required hours. The boss then cited as exemplary behavior the fact that another employee was able to attend the same meeting despite the fact that her son was in the hospital. Denesowicz offered her $100 award back, saying, “I’d be at the hospital.”
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