Thursday, July 05, 2007
Ask the Administrator: Job-Hunting While Pregnant
A new correspondent writes:
I'm wondering if you or your readers can shed any light on the issue of
women being pregnant while on the job market. Every academic woman planning
to become a mother has to weigh the timing of a pregnancy very carefully,
and the general assumption is that you never want to be pregnant while
you're on the job market. When you think about it from the perspective of
the woman, however, we're often weighing many issues that can conflict with
each-other: for example, whether a pregnancy is more feasible during
graduate school--even with dissertation writing and teaching--than it is
when you've gotten a tenure-track job, the question of when we can count on
having health insurance, and the possibilities for any maternity leave. Most
of the time, I think women try to time pregnancies so they can deliver a
baby at the beginning of the summer and extend their time at home, but the
timing of the (lengthy) academic job market process kills this possibility
since anyone getting pregnant in the late summer would be very visibly
pregnant during job interviews.
My main question is how much a pregnancy factors into a hiring decision. I'm
going on the market this year and have thought about waiting to get pregnant
with my second child until next year, but that makes no real sense to me
because then I'll have to go through the rigors of my first year while
dealing with all the variables of pregnancy. Plus, I'll be older, there's no
guarantee I'll find a job, and I don't really want to wait. Having already
had one child, I feel that taking a summer off to be with a newborn before I
start a full-time job would be so much better than taking the following
summer to do it, when I'm bound to have more responsibilities in a new
department. I know that there are a lot of factors that go into any woman's
decision to try to get pregnant, but for me this job-market question is a
big one, so any help would be appreciated.
Nope, no hot-button issues here! I don't have a general theory of academic fertility, but I can offer a few points, and I'll just ask readers who've negotiated these issues themselves to chime in with what they've found.
The easiest point first: it's illegal to hold pregnancy against a candidate. That isn't to say it never happens, or that it's always possible to determine what's going on in someone's head, but the law is on your side. It could be tough to prove in any given case, but you would be well advised to make notes of any inappropriate comments someone on the other side of the table happens to make. From a manager's perspective, the nightmare scenario is someone on the search committee saying something stupid to a candidate who wasn't going to win anyway. That gets ugly fast, because then the burden of proof is on the employer to show that its own boneheaded conduct was harmless. Typically, a committee stupid enough to say something out-of-bounds is also stupid enough not to keep really good records of how it made decisions. Good luck defending that in court.
In terms of trying to 'time' pregnancies so children are born in time for summer break, I'll just gently mention that not every couple conceives the first time out. Given the brevity of summer breaks, missing by just a couple of months could upset the apple cart pretty drastically. If you happen to hit the perfect time of year, congratulations, but I wouldn't advise building a plan that depends on it.
As unpredictable as fertility can be, the same can be said of the academic job market. You might get a great gig your first time out, or you might not. You might land a one-year position somewhere, so you're right back where you started next year at this time, but a little older. People have been known to hop from temporary job to temporary job for years.
In terms of how search committees view pregnancy, the best I can say is each committee is different. Ideally, none of them will consider it. And that's almost certainly true at the first screening stage, when the committee is just winnowing down the slush pile to pick the group to invite (or call) for first interviews. At that point, they simply wouldn't know. Once they've seen you, it may be impossible for them not to know.
Based on the demographic information I've seen over the years, the rule of thumb seems to be that the more research-oriented places are likelier to balk than the more teaching-oriented ones. But that's painting with a very broad stroke – as they say in the NFL, any given Sunday.
If you're at an interview, and you're at the point at which there's simply no way not to notice, I'd advise owning the issue and asking upfront about maternity leaves and the tenure clock. If you're not clearly showing, it's entirely your call what to do.
More broadly, I wouldn't advise making either decision – job or pregnancy – contingent on the other. Live your life, and let the chips fall where they may. There's no perfect time, and there never will be. If anything, waiting for the perfect time may push you to a point at which the issue is suddenly and mercilessly moot. This profession can be unspeakably inhuman in any number of ways. A little pressure on it to remember that people are complicated isn't a bad thing.
Wise and worldly readers – what do you think? What have you seen?
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.
In the 1990s, visible pregnancy would have been the "kiss of death" in search committees. Female candidates were grilled as to family status/marital status in ways the male candidates never saw.
BUT! Beginning in 2000, when there was a tight corps of junior female faculty members, our senior colleagues were taken to the woodshed on their attitudes and behavior vis-a-vis faculty candidates. What really helped was to point out how many questions were actionable (ie they could be sued). Granted, pointing out to your colleagues that they could be sued in court (and we would be compelled to testify against them), was more than a bit bracing for the "guys." It was a very big 2x4 applied to the side of their sexist heads. However, it was effective. The dean of the school instituted mandatory "search training," from which no one could escape. And the numbed headed comments and questions stopped.
Attitudes? I don't know...but the overt stuff stopped.
But your writer is correct to be concerned. I'm sure some places still retain their knuckle-dragging ways.
I'm pretty certain I could come up with a non-preganancy-related justification for hiring one of the other two. I don't see how I could reasonably be expected to do otherwise. People who think that we must ignore true facts that will have a critical impact on employee performance are people who have become accustomed to paying salaries with Other People's Money.
uhh....maybe because you're not an asshole? I'm sorry but it sounds to me like you're saying she asked for you to hire someone else just by being pregnant. she's backed you into a corner and you have no choice, right? Wrong. I don't buy it.
as for the advice in the post, brilliant. I haven't done the job market thing but I do know it's a mistake to think you are in absolute control of your fertility. I got pregnant right away with the first but it took me a full year (as in 12 months of trying every month) to get pregnant a second time. Any plan contingent on your fertility is likely to get all shot to hell so best not to make one.
I think jobs and babies have got to be considered separately, like you say. that's kind of a bold position, I guess, but I think it's one worth embracing. otherwise, you find yourself tiptoeing around making major life decisions about your family based on what some cretin on a hiring committee *might* think...? is that what we really want? I don't. it's just not good enough for me. not just me, either. women deserve better.
If I were the one hiring, I would be looking at the candidate as a long-term investment, not just a filler for the short-term. So, if we have to get someone to cover courses for a semester, that is nothing compared to the years of work and contributions that I can get from this person. Chances are, I already have folks who have been covering for a year while we were doing the search!
Those laws were put in place because employers weren't hiring women. They weren't hiring women because it is more expensive--and a pain in the behind--to deal with maternity leave than it is to avoid it. In many cases, employers were avoiding even women WITHOUT any obvious signs of pregnancy.
Legally, there's no question that you can't discriminate against pregnant females. Socially, there's no question that it does happen, and will continue to happen.
Being visibly pregnant will surely hurt your chances. Being visibly pregnant and asking about leave, benefits, etc, will make things even worse. Sad but true.
I'm lucky enough to have a full-time, long-term extremely stable job in a family-friendly workplace. And yet, I am afraid to tell senior management I'm pregnant because there's a juicy assignment coming up that I'm desperate for - and for which both senior management and I agree that I'm the best candidate. But it's a one-year assignment and I'm going on mat leave for a year in six months. But I lost the last baby at 4 months and don't want to jeopardize the opportunity and end up losing both the dream job and the baby. I'm fiercely loyal to my bosses and hate to deceive them, but for selfish reasons don't want to risk losing the assignment. I'm torn.
All this to say, even in the most positive, family-friendly, foward-thinking environments, pregnancy and the workplace are a minefield to be negotiated with care and fingers crossed. This is progress?
Yes, it's probably an issue to be on the market when you're pregnant. But it's also an issue to ask for maternity leave in a system that has no set policy for faculty leave when you're untenured. (Yes, I know we're behing the times without a maternity leave policy).
Frankly, if you wait until after you've gotten a job in a department that wouldn't have given you a job if you were pregnant, chances are they are not going to be particularly accomodating when you do get pregnant. So, unfortuntately, the bottom line is that there's no good answer.
Except this: that you have to know who you are and what your priorities are to make a good decision; both about being pregnant and what kind of department you want (or are willing to take).
On the topic of maternity leave: if you have a baby during your pre-tenure years, some places (like mine), do have generous leave policies. I have been on leave since the birth of my baby in December. I will finally start teaching again in August. So, if you are pregnant and interviewing, I would go ahead and either take the risk to ask about maternity leave, or else find out about the university's policies some other way. it is a really important issue, and you don't want to be left in the dark not knowing and then end up in a place about to have a baby and without a good maternity policy.
I imagine the process would only be more difficult if I had waited until I was on the job market or in a tenure track job.
Friends have asked me if I would have a child in graduate school if I had to do it again, and I say absolutely.
I have friends who are in tenure track jobs with high publishing expectations, and they have two kids. I don't know how they do it.
I know that people say academia has changed, and I think it's partially true, but I also think that many academics have trouble walking the talk where feminism and motherhood are concerned.
That said, I think my current department (at a CC) would be very flexible, but since I was hired, no one has needed maternity leave.
Having said that, everything is local! I've learned through the grapevine that my feelgood attitude about how my colleagues treat their female colleagues and faculty recruits just happens to be in the academic units I am a part of, and there are some departments where they really do have a knuckle-dragging mentality that the higher-ups are trying to pull them out of.
The lesson? You can't even generalize a given university. Just make the independent decision.
I do think that there is still an overall uneasiness in many academic settings about hiring pregnant women. I also agree that how this impacts job candidates can vary at individual campuses. I am at a large state R 1 wannabe and we have hired women who are pregnant, and have maternal leave policies and "clock stopping" for the tenure clock. Don't have campus day care, though.
Interesting topic. Good advice from DD and others.
It's hard to fake enthusiasm for someone else's children if you don't like kids generally. I'm at a comm. col. but have no intention of having offspring of my own. My husband and I have already decided that children are not something we want. Also, I don't particularly like to give any of my time or attention to other people's kids. They can stay at home as far as I'm concerned. It has nothing to do with my feelings on maternity leave or a woman's choice to reproduce. If you want to do so, live it up. Just don't involve me in the activity.
My point? Maybe the faculty members simply don't like 'little ones' and it has nothing to do with them being cold or disinterested in you as a candidate. Not all of us love kids or talking about them.
It's also difficult to imagine that management would not allow pregnant women to use their accrued sick leave before taking an unpaid family leave. A letter from a doctor would almost certainly satisfy even the strictest of HR directors; furthermore, sick leave is an unpaid liability. So because salaries generally go up, a day--or 20 days--of sick leave are cheaper now than they will be ten years from now.
As for the comment about mixing sick leave and FMLA leave - beware that your employer can lawfully run your 12 weeks of FMLA leave at the same time other forms of leave are used. So, if you were going to take your 12 weeks of FMLA time and then two weeks vacation and then a week of sick leave to create a fifteen week maternity leave - note that you may not be able to use them cumulatively versus simultaneously. So, plan ahead.
I didn't get ANY offers on those job interviews of mine...the following year (when I had neither the belly nor the boobs) I had three offers. I don't know that things would be much better these days -- people might not act overtly illegally, but there is a tendency in our society to treat any pregnant woman as though she is a little girl.
With my job candidate I did everything possible at my institution to get her here -- we need more like her. I was happy that she trusted me enough to tell me what was going on, but her pregnancy also factored into her decision to go elsewhere. I couldn't offer her as much of a teaching load reduction she wanted (due to constraints of our union contract and our college's policies) where our competition had more flexibility and a lower cost of living.
But had I been a man, would she have even revealed her situation? Would I have had the opportunity to try to help her? Probably not. Even though the chair of the department she interviewed in is a woman, our candidate did not even tell her of the situation! I think the only reason she opened up to me is that I make a habit of dropping hints about my own trials and tribulations in conversation with candidates (both male and female) to try to let them know that I am sympathetic.
I'm pretty sure academe is still not ready to cope. She still felt the need to hide -- and I can't blame her.
The bottom line is that there is no perfect time to have kids, so just do what is right for you. It will be totally crazy and life changing, so it doesn't matter how much you plan, there will be CHAOS. But, if you want a family and you want to be in a family-friendly place, then do what is right for you. Just don't forget about pregnancy brain. I was naive about how spacey I would be for all 9 months.
Good luck --- AP at R1
Enforcement Guidance: Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities
Among the topics covered are pregnancy discrimination and other unlawful gender role stereotyping of working women.
This isn't to say that R1 positions are somehow easier than LAC positions, but just to caution against romanticizing the latter. I guess really I'm just seconding the idea that it's impossible to generalize across kinds of institutions (or even within institutions).
All that being said, I remember the women faculty in my grad program saying the same thing about having kids - do it when YOU want to do it, because there's no right time to do it, career-wise.
One follow-up question: what constitutes a good maternity leave policy? I'm looking into a job now that offers 8 weeks (unpaid) leave. Is that good?
I'm the poster at a big, bad state U. We have very generous maternity leave policies (1 semester), which if bundled with a summer of not teaching (summer teaching is ALWAYS optional), you can have a total of 9 months off (though life with a newborn isn't exactly "restful"). Not sure about the rate of pay, whether it's full salary or disability pay.
The maternity leave policy was altered (IMPROVED) by the U in the early 2000s in an effort to improve the tenure rates for female faculty members.
Good luck getting this sorted out.
Frankly I think anything less than a semester is crazy - even the students I think suffer from having to switch gears if someone has to teach part courses. I could have taken up to an additional 10 months unpaid, which I didn't take since I had the summer to work lightly after my leave was over. I also got a year hold put on tenure.
I have friends at similar schools who do get full semesters off. I'd say 8 weeks paid is minimally good; 12 or 16 weeks paid is very nice. Unpaid leave, and no option for a tenure hold are ridiculous.
We ended up hiring the pregnant candidate straight out of a very good PhD program (but who had a bunch of really great research/public history experience) over a young male candidate from an Ivy League U and a female candidate from a respected Private U in the area.
Best decision the department has made in a long time.
Granted, the timing worked out well (she didn't have to miss any time), but it certainly meant that she would have less time for students than the single guy from Ivy League U.
One bit of advice for everyone here, which I haven't seen a whole lot of on here: INVOLVE THE STUDENTS!!!!!
Any school (R1, SLAC, CC, whatever) that hires anyone, pregnant or otherwise, without asking for significant student input are really foolish. Let me tell you: students don't really care if a candidate is pregnant. Much like a few comments hinted at above, hiring is a long term decision, and students understand this, even if for them it just means 3 years with a new Prof. Here's what we want from a new Prof:
1) A decent human being
2) A quality scholar. Being published is nice, but knowing where to send students for further reading/research is really the key
3) A well thought out syllabus that is well paced and kept through the course of a semester.
For the most part, students don't care about (or simply aren't aware of) inter-department politics/squabbles/what have you. So they're the best judge of how well a new faculty member will perform. Frankly, they don't care if she has 6 kids and another on the way.
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All told, pregnancy should never be a hindrance for any woman seeking for a job. With the right consultation and arrangement, she is poised to succeed in the job market.
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