Ten years ago, I had an interview that probably changed my life forever: I was more than two months pregnant and I did not tell the interviewers about it.
At that time, I was interviewing for a leadership program at a Fortunes 100 technology company. The program was said to be among the best of its type and there would be only a few to be selected in the whole Asia Pacific region. Therefore, the competition was extremely harsh. Being a young professional with a Master Degree from a prestigious graduate school and one year of “rocket ship” experience in a major transformation project at a Fortunes 500 company, I was determined as fire to land the position, as it would undoubtedly accelerate my career.
I did intensive Google search, reading and practicing just as any interviewees are supposed to do, and then went through five rounds of interview one of which was face to face with an on-site manager. As my pregnancy was in a very early stage, I was not reminded that I was pregnant when in the room. I felt confident and aced the interview by answering the questions based on my hard-earned experience with a strong conviction. After all the conversations had been completed, I was anxious about the results. My days after that were filled a scenario when they said yes and I would be carrying my growing belly to the office for about six months before I delivered my baby. I would then only use all of my annual leave as my maternity leave just enough to heal so I could stay on track with the program.
A week later, the recruiter contacted me with an offer and gave me two days to think about it. After consulting with my family, I decided to accept the offer. Yet, I had not informed them that I was pregnant, as one reason was I had not passed the first trimester. Another bigger reason was my gigantic fear, the fear of having the contract withdrawn and my career dream therefore shattered.
When starting the new job, I shared with my US-based manager on the news. She was kind enough to congratulate me but too far to protect me from the discrimination in the local office. A week after, I found myself walking back home from the train station full of tears. All of my confidence and self-esteem evaporated because my on-boarding in the local office turned out to be seasoned with judgmental looks, gossips, unwelcomed pregnancy-related jokes, reprimand in front of a handful of people, and exclusion from events. I had never been more stressful in my life at that point and my resilience wanted to brake, even at the price of my career aspiration being destroyed. I told my husband that I would quit.
He, however, told me to keep going till I at least completed the 18-month leadership program and I would have all of the support that I need from him. With that, I moved on. And the universe seemed to conspire for my plan.
After my two-month maternity leave encouraged by my US-based manager, I was back to work and assigned to the local manager who interviewed me in person before and with whom I had not mentioned about my pregnancy during the interview or when accepting the offer. I was asked if I would work part time or full time. I was full of determination to prove my worth so I said yes (Well, one may have chosen to file a discrimination law suit but this is not me). I took the mistake on my part, apologized, and said I would try my best to perform really well. A week in my new role, I was given a rocket ship, being the acting country functional leader for a local market which I boldly accepted. I deposited my baby at home with my in-laws and went on a week-long business trip (with milk pumping over lunchtime). The experience became the best in my career where my learning was steep and the local manager became one of my best managers ever.
Although I gained back the trust of the manager, I wished I could have done the necessary before accepting the offer. The planet seemed to hear my thoughts so I did not make the same mistake twice. Six years later, it just happened that I was offered to be the head of a sub-function at a growing e-commerce company when I was more than three months pregnant. This time, I told the hiring manager about my situation and shared about my strong passion for the role as well as my commitment to contribute. They accepted. And I joined them. With dignity and confidence. The best part was I could deliver my baby naturally and smoothly (while my first was under emergency C-section).
As I moved on from the past, I also came across a strong line in the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg: Don’t leave before you leave. Sandberg mentioned about a woman who hesitated to take on a job offer as she may have a family. The COO of Facebook explained that right before having a child was actually a great time to take a new job. I truly hope our culture would adopt such mindset which makes many women more confident and engaged during any stage of their career while fulfilling their domestic role as a mother. That way, women do not have to say no the jobs they love while companies will not lose talents who make borderless contribution in the long run.
And last but not least, if you are expecting, don’t stop yourself from an invitation to an interview for a job you so much love. The best case scenario is you get the offer, inform the company of the news yet reaffirm them of your interest and commitment (unless your bump is really obvious already in the interview stage, you may have to decide to inform even earlier; if you are not yet further along, I would not bother as the selection may not be objectively based on merits), and they still want to hire you. The second best is after you tell them, they withdraw the offer with a justification the validity of which you doubt, then you may not want to work for them anyway. However, you still accumulate interview experience and learn about another industry or company and the job market, which will pay off later. Again, some may choose to take legal action against the employer but I would not take that path for the health of the baby and the mother and to save the energy and time for the right employer in the future. And… your baby will surely grow with the experience and inherit the courage from you even when he/she is only in the womb!
So yes, the experience changed me hugely. I became a more resilient, courageous and well-experienced woman (so I share about this story!) a more compassionate manager, and a strong advocate for women at work through my jobs and my community involvement.