Should You Share Your Plans To Have Children With A Potential Employer?
A guide to what interviewers can and cannot ask you, plus ways to respond, so you can be empowered to make the right decisions
May 13, 2023
Going for job interviews can be stressful. And it’s especially so when you’re not aware of what your potential employer is legally allowed to ask you. Sometimes, it can feel like questions come out of nowhere and you’re caught off guard, not knowing whether you’re meant to answer them.
For women, some of these questions may concern childbearing plans. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) lists the guidelines for what is considered a “fair job interview”. TAFEP promotes the adoption of fair, responsible and progressive employment practices, and was set up in 2006 by the tripartite partners – Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress, and Singapore National Employers Federation.
One of the questions under its “you should not ask” list is, “Are you planning to have children soon?”. But this doesn’t mean that employers do not ask this to potential employees. In fact, according to Her World’s What Women Want Survey 2020, 25 per cent of women were asked about their childbearing plans by a recruiter or potential employer. Of these women, 72 per cent mentioned their plans, while the other 28% chose not to reveal them. And, among those who had childbearing plans, about one-third chose not to tell the recruiter or potential employer about it.
Should You Share Your Plans To Have Children With A Potential Employer?
What can you do if you’re asked about your childbearing plans?
Given that some employers or recruiters still pose this forbidden question during interviews, what should you do if you’re in such a situation?
“According to the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, it is discriminatory to ask an interviewee about their childbearing plans. Employees must be recruited purely on the basis of merit, and their family or caregiving responsibilities should not be factored into recruitment,” says Shailey Hingorani, head of AWARE’s Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory.
“If women are asked about their childbearing plans, they may ask the employer the reason behind that question. After all, children are not always planned, and they may point out that they cannot predict with certainty whether or not they will be having children. If the employer still insists on getting an answer, women may further enquire how their childbearing is relevant to the role they are applying for. If the answer is not satisfactory, or seems discriminatory, they can report the employer to TAFEP for discriminatory hiring practices.”
Situations where you could share your childbearing plans
Shailey notes that women are not obliged to share their childbearing plans with a potential employer. Childbearing is an extremely personal matter, and is entirely dependent on a woman’s individual situation. However, there are certain situations where women could decide to share their plans. Women may wish to research the employer’s attitudes towards existing employees with caregiving responsibilities, to find a supportive employer.
Look for clues such as whether or not the employer provides flexible working arrangements and paternity leave that extends beyond the legal minimum. Do they have breastfeeding rooms for nursing employees? Do they have comprehensive HR policies against maternity discrimination?
“If the employer appears to match this criteria, the applicant can choose to be honest about their childbearing plans,” she says.
There are also pros and cons to sharing your childbearing plans with a potential employer or recruiter. Shailey reveals that sharing childbearing plans or pregnancy status early on in the job application process can help initiate an honest, communicative relationship between an employee and employer. The employer can then plan necessary accommodations and find ways to support the worker through her pregnancy and caregiving responsibilities.
“However, maternity discrimination is a prevalent issue in Singapore – 7 in 10 cases of workplace discrimination seen by AWARE’s Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory in 2020 involved maternity discrimination,” she explains.
Potential discrimination is therefore a very valid concern that many women have when applying for jobs. Due to the deep-seated stereotypes associated with working mothers, it is not easy to be open about these plans with an employer without fearing the loss of a lucrative job opportunity.
Also, if an employee has been working for the employer for more than 90 days, it is against the law for an employer to dismiss a pregnant employee except for in cases of retrenchment, poor performance or misconduct. Therefore, knowing their maternity protections can empower women to seek support in the scenario that they experience maternity discrimination, Shailey advises.
Being mentally prepared for THAT question
Nevertheless, even if you’re aware of what a potential employer can and cannot ask you during an interview, you might still be nervous about dealing with such questions if they pop up. And stressing about something that might or might not happen – in an already stressful situation – can take a toll on your mental health.
Grace Loh, a psychotherapist, counsellor and coach at Counseling Perspective, says that, unfortunately, some hiring managers and prospective employers still hold biased perspectives about women’s roles in the workplace. However, on the flip side, the interviewer may not necessarily mean to discriminate, and could be asking for practical reasons such as seeking information about your availability during anticipated peak seasons or your ability to work overtime.
She suggests confidently raising these questions politely and professionally:
* If you are eager for the role and think of the question as challenging not to answer, you could try to ascertain why they are asking such questions. Ask them, “I appreciate your questions; if you do not mind me asking, could you let me know the reasons for asking these questions and how this information will be used?”
* If you think they are trying to find out about your future capacity to work overtime when required, you could respond by saying, “I believe what you are asking about is if I can work overtime when required, and the answer to that is yes.”
* If you perceive the question to be about your level of commitment to the role, you could say, “I think you are trying to ask me about my commitment to the role and I can assure you of my commitment. Let me tell you of some previous situations where I have demonstrated this…”
Grace advises that you could also choose to be upfront about your pregnancy or childbearing plans if you are entirely comfortable doing so. However, you can courteously point out that the question is not relevant to your ability and capacity to perform the role and take this opportunity to address your prospective employer’s potential concerns with a prepared plan for minimising your absences, for example, through remote work, project planning and tracking milestones achieved.
“Here is your chance to exemplify your resourcefulness and commitment to outcomes and solutions. You can then steer the interview back to focus on your qualifications, skillsets and relevant experience to the role,” she says.
Ultimately, it would be helpful for you to assess their motives for asking. If you perceive that it comes from a discriminatory perspective, you could ask more questions to evaluate if this workplace has a broader culture that actually condones or supports this, and should the employer be unwilling to hire a professional that will soon have, or intends to have, a child, it may be a good cause to reconsider accepting an offer, or desiring to work there in the first place.
“Gather your impressions, pay close attention to any red flags that might signal that the company is not a good place for you, and make a decision that is best for yourself in the long term. The right companies will see your potential and choose to work with you,” she adds.
Dealing with an aggressive interviewer
You might also be faced with a situation where a potential employer insists you answer their question about your childbearing plans and perhaps even get aggressive. This could make you anxious or angry, and how you react could make or break your chances of getting the job. There are some ways you could calm yourself and proceed with the interview on a positive note.
Grace suggests the following techniques:
* Remember not to keep shallow breaths, as this can worsen your anxiety or anger if you begin to hyperventilate, causing physiological distress such as increased heart rate, muscle tension and potential dizziness. Take a deep diaphragmatic breath of four counts, imagining you are pulling your diaphragm down your belly when inhaling, hold for four counts, exhale or expel the air like a soft sigh for four counts, and hold for another four before you breathe in deeply again.
This is a shortened version of box breathing, a stress-reducing technique used and endorsed by the U.S. Navy SEALs to stay calm and focused before and after intense combat. This is good and useful to practise for five minutes each time in a day, to help you learn to self-regulate and calm your nervous system, decreasing stress in your body and to increase calmness, clarity and focus.
* Whilst seated, and with the interview ongoing, you can also surreptitiously position your feet flat and firmly on the ground, shoulder-width apart for a greater sense of stability; sit up taller and straighter, and square your shoulders back to assume a semi power-pose (without looking awkward). This can help you to regain a sense of confidence.
* Another helpful technique stems from Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan: You can visualise that within your mind’s eye, resides your Wise Mind, which is the middle ground between your Emotional Mind that is reactive and all about your feelings, and your Rational Mind that is logical, focused and uses facts. Wise Mind is the middle path that is mindful, intuitive and balanced. As you do box breathing, visualise yourself settling into Wise Mind, which is a psychological state that is the calm optimal mode of thinking and acting that is intuitive and a place of heightened fluid intelligence. This can be applied by observing and acknowledging your thoughts and feelings without avoiding them, understanding without judgement what you observe (of the interview and interviewer) and showing up by participating in the present moment.
A quicker way to conjure up Wise Mind would be to envision a person you admire and respect who embodies the idea of wisdom for you. Imagine what this person would advise you to do in moments of distress and allow yourself to experience the answers, imagining their calming words and tone of voice that brings comfort and confidence.
“At the end of the day, even though you might feel like you are in the hot seat, remember that you are coming from a position of strength, where you are collecting observations and facts that would be useful for you to make decisions for your career,” says Grace. “As much as the prospective employer is appraising you, similarly, you are evaluating if the employer is suitable for you.”