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Getting a Foot in the Door


by Kendra Clark, for SIOP

Bias against pregnant women found before job interviews--but not after

Jobs interviews entail many challenges—but pregnant women experience unique struggles.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 made it illegal to discriminate against pregnant women in the workplace. Despite this protection, more than 18,100 charges were filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 2009 and 2011 as violations of PDA.

New research by SIOP members Tracy Mulderig and Therese Macan may give women important information about their potential to be discriminated against in the job interview process. In a pair of studies, the two found that participants acting as employers assigned lower hiring ratings to candidates when they found out they were pregnant. However, once an applicant performed well during the job interview, she was just as likely to be hired regardless of whether or not she discussed her pregnancy during the interview. This was also true regardless of whether or not the candidate was visibly pregnant during the interview.

Macan said the results of the study are encouraging for pregnant women who are able to snag an interview.

“We don’t know all the factors that go through someone’s mind when making an employment decision,” she said. “But what we do know now is that if you are a qualified applicant and if you are a strong interviewee, then regardless of pregnancy, there is a fair shot at the job.”

This research will be presented at the 29th Annual SIOP Conference, which takes place May 15-17, 2014 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Mulderig and Macan wanted to explore the effects of pregnancy self-disclosure via a social networking website versus a deliberate pregnancy self-disclosure to a Human Resources recruiter on perceptions of non-visibly pregnant and visibly pregnant job applicants both before and after an employment interview.

In their first study, the researchers handed 228 Midwestern university students a description for a mid-level computer programmer position, an applicant résumé, and a “Recruiter Notes” document containing a randomly assigned disclosure manipulation. The “Recruiter Notes” contained one of three comments: one stated nothing about the pregnancy, one stated that the candidate told the recruiter she was pregnant during a prescreening call, and one stated that the recruiter discovered the candidate was pregnant from a Facebook post. Participants were asked to make hiring ratings and a yes/no hiring decision for the candidate.

Then participants watched a video of a non-pregnant looking woman being interviewed with a set of structured questions and were asked to make a hiring decision. The study was then repeated, with the only change being that the woman in the video appeared to be seven months pregnant. The candidate either discussed her pregnancy or did not discuss her pregnancy at the beginning of the interview.

Candidates were evaluated less favorably pre-interview based on their resume when their pregnancy was known to the person assigning the hiring ratings.

“Our results did suggest that pregnant women may experience bias early in the selection process if their pregnancy was discovered from a Facebook screening, Macan explained.

However, after performing well during the interview, post-interview hiring ratings were similar for all candidates. These post-interview hiring ratings did not depend on how the pregnancy was disclosed prior to the interview (i.e., directly to the HR recruiter, on Facebook, or not at all), whether the candidate chose to discuss the pregnancy at the beginning of the interview, or even whether or not the candidate was visibly pregnant during the interview. Thus, there was no evidence of bias against the pregnant applicant after she performed well during the job interview.

“Employers are concerned about pregnant women being absent from their job more than other workers,” Macan explained. “But any employee could potentially need extended leave for health reasons, so employers need to keep that in mind when hiring.”

Macan explained one reason employers may be less likely to extend a job interview after finding out about a woman’s pregnancy on Facebook.

“The employer may feel like you are hiding something if they find out on social media compared to if you reveal your pregnancy beforehand,” she explained.

Considering the results of the studies, Macan said it’s a personal decision as to whether or not a woman should disclose her pregnancy before a job interview.

“It might be better to wait until after the interview so you have a better chance of getting to that point,” she suggested. “But if you do that, be aware of what is on your Facebook page or your other outlets, because that could make it worse if an employer found out through other sources.”

Mulderig and Macan also noted that they were interested in understanding what would happen if information about pregnancy were discovered indirectly and potentially outside of a candidate’s awareness. Their study should not be seen as a recommendation that employers use Facebook as a way of learning more about job applicants (or to identify pregnant job applicants). Instead, the results indicate that pregnant women should exercise caution if there is a chance that prospective employers may try to access their social networking sites.