#02: Starting a new role when you're expecting a child

Oct 18, 2023

E2_ Jenna - podcast feed About The Episode

Many working professionals worry that becoming a parent will stall their careers – especially women. 

Unfortunately it’s not just a feeling: There are countless pieces of research covering the many ways in which women are negatively impacted after having a child (also known as the motherhood penalty).

One of Allison’s main goals when launching Parentally was to be a source of inspiration for working parents, to build something that helps eliminate this false tradeoff between career and starting a family. 

And as the company has grown, we’ve had the opportunity to hear the stories of many working parents and their experiences with some really great companies that don't look at parenthood as a downfall.

In this episode, Parentaly’s Head of Marketing Jenna Vassallo joins Allison to talk about all the different factors that go into starting a new role while expecting, as someone who started a new role when she was six months pregnant. 

We cover the full spectrum, from when to disclose during the interview process, to starting a new role or being promoted when expecting, to the challenges of onboarding and coverage planning at the same time once you land a new role – and how this experience can be vastly different for a birthing versus non-birthing parent. 

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Allison Whalen (AW): So we are here today to talk about starting a new job while expecting a child. And part of the reason why I wanted to talk about this topic, why I wanted to bring Jenna on to talk about this topic is we are very loud on LinkedIn, and we talk a lot about all these different facets of parental leave. And what we've noticed is more recently, we've had a lot of people reach out to us to ask us for our advice on looking for a new job while pregnant or expecting a child. Now, whether that's taking an opportunity internally within a company while you're expecting a child, or if it's actually interviewing while pregnant or expecting, this is such a hot topic. It's something that people are constantly asking us for. 

And when you dig a little bit deeper, it is actually quite nuanced. And so our goal today is to walk through all of the things that we've learned and seen across our conversations with people we work with, people who see our content on LinkedIn, reach out, have calls with us, as well as share some of our personal experience because Jenna and I both have a little bit of personal experience when it comes to starting new roles, new jobs while pregnant. So let's dive into things.

I'm gonna start with probably the number one question we get all the time, which is when should I disclose that I'm pregnant? We get asked this constantly. So for people who are job searching while pregnant, when do they need to disclose? Do they need to disclose in the interview process? Do they disclose after they get an offer? 

I'm going to put you on the spot, Jenna, and get your opinion. 

Jenna Vassallo (JV): So yes, this is probably of all the questions I've ever received on LinkedIn, especially when we were sharing our tenure database of companies with better policies around when you're actually eligible for parental leave. It was like, do I talk about it now or do I wait until the end?

My personal opinion is it, I guess it kind of depends on how far along you are, but I personally don't think I would disclose until I got an offer and then I would talk through it once I knew like, yes, I have an offer in hand and then, you know, getting into the logistics I guess of what it means. If I were eight or nine months pregnant, I might change that answer where I would want to disclose it sooner solely because I would be onboarding for maybe a week, two weeks and then it'd have to go out. So I think it depends on how far along you are, but also how comfortable I guess you are in the interview process. 

AW: Yeah, I think I broadly agree with you. The only additional thing I would add in to make this overly complicated is I think it depends on how much power you have as an applicant. And so I have, I've known certain people in my life that have disclosed their pregnancy very early, like six weeks. They just found out that they're pregnant and they tell them at the beginning of an interview process. And what I've noticed thematically is that those are the women who are really feeling like they do not need the job and that they have more power, they're overqualified for the role. That is sort of the consistent theme that I've seen. 

And I think the reason that they disclose is because it has something to do, like they're trying to get something out of it. So. Either they need to negotiate parental leave or they don't wanna take the job, or they want to flag that, hey, you're bringing me in to do this big thing, but I'm actually gonna be out. And they've just decided that for their personal comfort, they wanna talk about it. That's the only additional thing. I tend to recommend that people don't disclose because I think it's none of their business. And I think most people don't have a ton of power in that negotiation process. And so I agree with you. 

However, I also I interviewed while eight months pregnant once, and I did tell them very early on for the reason you just described, because it's awkward if you get a job and they have all these big plans and then you're like, actually I'm only gonna work for a month and then I'm gonna be out. So I just decided I was gonna tell them and quite frankly, I didn't need the job. And so there is a position of privilege there as well. 

JV: Right, yeah, I think especially the messages that we're getting with all the layoffs that have been going on, everyone is more worried saying, oh, I'm six months pregnant. How do I get a job now? Because I don't wanna wait until I get back and you're like, what is the right thing to do? And I feel like what you're saying is, and what I agree with is like, you have to do what's best for you because at the end of the day, if you need the job, you need the job. And it changes the way you're feeling in the process as well. 

I feel like there was one really fun story of someone who got a new job at 20 or 24 weeks pregnant and they were like, I didn't tell my manager, how do I tell them now? And so that was just a really uplifting story because she was so nervous to say, by the way, I'm pregnant. And then the situation with her employer was, that's great, let's get going. Let's figure out how to plan. So I often think like, A, why are we worried about disclosing, especially women are disclosing that they're pregnant, but then it's also that, yeah, it's that fear and that guilt of how it's going to be received. So the more we hear these stories of uplifting and good responses, we'll probably make it a lot easier to be able to disclose it sooner if you want to. 

AW: Yeah, I do empathize though with how tough it is because we know that if a manager is hiring someone, they need that worker. And so I do empathize with how difficult that is for everyone to say, okay, well, we know you need this work done, but I'm also gonna need this time off. And so it's a really tough position to be in.

And I think when people say, I don't want to disclose, but I feel like I should, they feel like they should because they don't want to get the offer, tell them, and then the manager's upset. And now they have to live in a situation where the manager is upset. And so it's complicated, I think, in my mind, because ultimately we all want to end up in a place where we feel supported and the manager is so critical to your experience. And so if they're going to be upset, whether they find out sooner or later, you probably don't want to work there. And so that's what becomes tricky for me. It's like, okay, like if you wait and you disclose after you get the job offer and they're upset, you know, I don't know. It's kind of hard. You want to end up in a place where your manager is happy and whether you disclose that early or late shouldn't matter. And so it's such a tricky thing to wrap your mind around. Yeah.

So I guess let's go into this next question, which is, what are the pros and cons of starting a job while pregnant? 

And I have some perspectives here. I will never forget back in the day, one of my best friends was about four months pregnant and she'd been at her company for like six years. And she said, I'm applying for this new role now at this new company. And I remember telling her, I don't think that's a good idea. You know, she didn't have any children. I had a child at the time and I said, this is such a difficult period when you become a parent with the first child that you welcome. I told her, I think it would be better for you to stay in this comfortable position. And she said, nope, I'm so bored, I'm not motivated. I need something that is exciting and different. And I remember thinking, this is a bad decision. 

And honestly, I was completely wrong and I've completely changed my perspective since then because what she expressed I think is so true, which is there is a pro of sticking with a job that feels comfortable, which is, yeah, it could be easy and you know that you're going to do well and so that's a confidence boost. 

And so when all these things are up in the air and this is a new experience for you, that can be really good. The con of that is if you're going to not feel motivated, it can be the worst feeling to have to go back to a job that you don't feel really good in when you've got a child, a new child at home. Yeah, I'm curious if you have a different perspective on that.

JV: Yeah, so I have started a new job when pregnant and I feel like it kind of depends on what the job is. So in my last position, I was an individual contributor. I was doing one part of marketing. I was then promoted to take on a leadership role managing the whole corporate marketing team. And I was six or seven months pregnant. So that was kind of scary, I will say.

But when I was first talking through it, I was like, should I do this? Am I able to do this? And once I said yes, I think the support I had from my manager of we know, they knew I was pregnant. They did not have any concerns. It was kind of that helpful boost in a way where if they think I can do it, why should I doubt myself being able to do it? 

And I think the pro was I got to wind down the work I was doing as the individual and focus more on you know, in the few months leading up to my leave, getting to know my team, figuring out what their roles will be. The con was I then had to pass them back to their previous manager. So it was a little bit, I think the struggle wasn't so much for me as an employee getting a new role as much as it was of like, how do I manage other people through this experience because of the type of role that I was taking on. 

AW: That is an interesting perspective of it's less about you. It's more about what it does to the team. Yeah, I mean, and I think it's also, I've also seen that a lot from people who go through our program who say, oh, it's so difficult to have your manager switch out during this experience. And I think if you are a manager, even when you think about our Parentaly materials, we put you on a different path if you're a manager, because not only are you planning for yourself, you're also planning for the team and that depends on you and how you support them through that process. It's a really tough situation to be in. 

From a hiring manager's perspective, the pros and cons are, I don't know, very interesting. The pro, I think, of bringing on someone who is expecting, well, I should say in general, we're obviously very biased. And so we have had a lot of people go out, including me, on parental leave. And I think in general, we kind of view parental leaves in our business as these really important, immovable business milestones. So yes, it's a life milestone, but when I found out that our head of growth was expecting, yes, I was thrilled for him on a personal level, but I was also thinking, great, we have this deadline to do all this important stuff because you're going to be out. 

And so I think that there are actually a lot of positives from a hiring manager's perspective of, you can almost like piece out the work in a clearer, more urgent way. And creating this real sense of urgency can oftentimes be difficult in a business. You can't fake anything like welcoming a child. Like it's coming. And so you have to get this work done. 

I think unfortunately, most hiring managers don't think that way. It is viewed as a negative thing of, instead of getting a person who's gonna be here for the next year, I have someone who's gonna leave for six months. But I really would challenge a lot of managers to think about one, parental leave goes by in a blink of an eye. And so if it is the right person, it doesn't matter. And also, how can it help you accelerate the deliverables? Because we've just seen this over and over again in our own business here, that it's a really helpful prioritization tool. 

JV: And do you think it's different? Now I'm asking the questions, because I'm curious, you've done both. So hiring someone who is expecting versus having someone on a team changing roles when they're pregnant?

AW:  I've only had the experience of promoting people while they were pregnant or expecting a child. But I mean, I guess this is sort of similar. When I was at my last company, there was a sales rep who was on a different team and I was starting off my own team. And I had to pick the one person that was going to be our first hire. And it was the most mission critical hire for this team. And the best person by far was a woman who was seven months pregnant. And this was enterprise sales. So the deals take forever to close. And, but I didn't even think about not giving her the offer because she was obviously the right person for this role. 

But I gave her the offer and she was shocked and she said, are you sure you want to do this? Because I'm seven months pregnant. And I pulled her into a conference room and I said, well, I've got a secret for you. Not only are you seven months pregnant, I'm 12 weeks pregnant. And so we've got a bigger puzzle to figure out here, which is how do we kind of pass the baton between you going on leave and then I'm going on leave?

It was basically the most challenging situation because we had a team of two of us now, both of us were pregnant. And at the time I told her in the commerce room because I was secretly pregnant and didn't want other people to know. And she was shocked. And she just said, I cannot believe that you are picking me to be on this team when I'm seven months pregnant. And she ended up closing so much in those final two and a half months that she was at work. And it's the right thing to do. She was the right person. 

And so I didn't…I guess I technically hired a new person because she wasn't on my team. It wasn't like I was just promoting her within my own org, but it wasn't like someone coming from the outside. And I knew that she was pregnant and didn't care because we're playing the long game here. 

So everything we've talked about has been around pregnancy and largely around a birth parent. What about an employee who is expecting a child, but they are not themselves pregnant? So for example, a father who is expecting a child. 

I think this is an interesting topic because I think oftentimes when we think about looking for a new job while expecting, we're really talking about someone who's pregnant. And I do wonder how is that experience different and or similar for, for example, a father or a non-birth parent who isn't physically carrying that child, who won't need that medical recovery, who isn't showing. And so they don't go in and people can't see that they are about to expect a child. I think a lot about how that experience is so different and almost unfair, because what I have seen in my world is those non-birth parents, when they start a new job, they will oftentimes not take their leave. 

And so it creates this really sort of unfair, unequal experience where someone who's pregnant, they really can't, nor would they want to say, well, I'm just not gonna take my leave. I mean, they're going through this really major traumatic medical experience, and they just don't say, well, I'm not gonna take it. I mean, obviously they are, but then we see the non-birth parents oftentimes say, well, I just started this new job, I couldn't possibly take my leave. And that irks me a little bit, even though I understand from their personal perspective why they do that, I just think it creates this really tough experience for the birthing parents. 

JV: Yeah, I do, yeah, it goes back to the perception, right? So a non-birthing parent or especially I think fathers, they're not even thinking about disclosing that their partner is expecting because it doesn't, I feel like it is just something they don't think about. So as they're getting close, because they're not going through the appointments necessarily not going through all the physical changes. 

So I do wonder like, is it because it's an afterthought where they're not thinking about it for the interview process, they're just focused on like getting the job and then they might not even ask about the policy because it's getting better now, but it hasn't been the norm historically for non-braiding parents to even have as much paid leave. So A, they might not think they get it. B, like you said, they may not feel like it's okay to take it. But yeah, I do wonder if it's kind of a secondary thought, whereas women or birthing parents are constantly thinking, like, if I start a new job, will I get leave? Because I have to recover. I have to bond. I have to do all of these, you know, things that when the baby arrives that, yeah, it's just a completely different mindset. 

And I hate using unfair, but that is like, we don't really have the choice if we're carrying to not take leave, even if it's a shorter leave, you still have to stop, disrupt work and teams, whatever, to physically recover. 

AW: Yeah, I think it's also an interesting something you said stuck with me, which is they don't feel it's okay to take it. And I think that that's probably like nobody questions if a pregnant person is saying, oh, I'm gonna have this baby on this date. I have my scheduled C-section. And so I'm starting my parental leave at this date. No one would ever judge that person. But if it's a father, for example, and I actually do think this is very gendered.I think even if it's a woman who is not giving birth herself, there's just this idea of, oh, of course the mother needs to take this time, but the father, it's an optional thing. 

I think even in companies where culturally this is accepted, fathers are still trying to figure out how to get the confidence to take that time, let alone if they're brand new at the company or brand new in their role. I think there is definitely this tendency for non-birth parents, for fathers to say, okay, I'm gonna prioritize work because I can, which is really, it's tough.

The other thing I would add is there are a lot of companies where you don't qualify for bonding leave until you're at 12 months, but you do qualify for disability leave starting on your day of employment. And so there is also that technicality that for birth parents, maybe they are the only ones that are qualifying for some time away. But it is interesting. I think you're exactly right. The real estate in our minds that this takes up when you are pregnant as opposed to an afterthought. I think that's exactly right.

JV: And companies are offering less leave to men or non-birthing parents that even in the interview process, they might not, not that they won't care, but they might not care as much because it's maybe four weeks or six weeks compared to birthing usually getting at least 12 upwards, sometimes 16, 20. We're seeing even 24 as companies are increasing their policies. So yeah. 

AW: So I want to ask about your personal experience when you were promoted and navigating sort of the dynamics, all of a sudden you're now more senior than your peers and having to think about planning for their experience and yours. What do you think was the hardest part about that? Like if you could go back and redo something, what's the one thing you would do differently? 

JV: So I'm super type A. I probably focused more on my coverage planning that I didn’t think about how to make this a better experience for my team. So I was thinking about like, I still have to do all of these different projects that I was doing in my individual role because I didn't hire a backfill to take on all my content marketing as an example. But I wasn't necessarily thinking about these three people on my team were now having to learn how to report to someone new all the changes that they were going through. 

In some cases, like you said, I went from peer to manager, so that's emotional for others. And so I wish I focused more on what they needed before diving just straight into like, well, here's all the stuff that all of you have to figure out while I'm out. I did have specific ideas and suggestions on who should cover what, but yeah, it was harder to figure out what can I do in the next three months to make them feel supported and know that just because I'm going out, they don't have to start all over. 

For them, and I had one specific report saying…so you're my new manager, but you're going on leave in three months and then I'm going back to my old manager. Like why? They sort of questioned it,  so I think that was the trickiest part. 

AW: That's my biggest regret with my first leave that it didn't even cross my mind to think about professional development for my direct reports. It didn't cross my mind to talk to the interim manager about…Hey, here's the individual sort of, I don't wanna say performance plan, but here are the things that this person does really well. Here's the thing that I'm working on helping them improve on. I didn't think of any of that. It was just like, how do we keep the boat afloat basically and not sink while I'm out? And that's not the right way to handle that experience. 

And you're right, I was so thinking about me, my deliverables that I totally missed how this also impacted every other person on my team. I think about it all the time of how different it could be if I could go back and actually put together plans for them and think about making this a really positive experience for them. 

Which kind of leads me to my last question here. We see this all the time with parental leave, that it can be an incredible opportunity to transition jobs through this parental leave experience. So wind down, and this is kind of shifting a little bit. We've talked in this conversation about getting promoted or starting a new job while pregnant. But what if you move that, sort of change the goalpost a little bit and say, okay, I'm gonna wind down my role, go on parental leave and come back to a new role. 

Wanna spend just a few minutes talking about that because we have seen, I would say this is the most successful thing that we have seen across the thousands of people who go through our program. When they focus on switching roles internally within their own company. And that's sort of the moment of change is when they take parental leave. We've seen phenomenal feedback. I want to talk a little bit more about that and why we think that is. 

My personal opinion on that is if you're having to wind down all of these things and figure out a coverage plan, it is the best time to figure out if you want to actually pick it back up. But it's challenging to think about, okay, do you come back to a better version of your current role or do you actually switch roles and come back into something new? 

When you were looking at this promotion, did you think about that? Think of like, well, maybe I should just wait until I come back to start this. And if yes, why take on that new promotion while you are pregnant? 

JV: Yeah, so I didn't. I don't think I thought about it in that way. I had talked earlier, so I knew the promotion was coming or that it was an option. I had talked to my manager before I told her I was pregnant. She had said, I'm thinking about changing the structure of the team. And so she first even asked, are you interested in this type of role? So when I had interviewed, and this is probably over sharing, but when I had interviewed, I had said, I wanna manage people. That's what I did in my last role. I enjoy mentoring, helping other people excel. So I know this is an IC role, but if there's ever an opportunity, I would like that. 

I was thinking it would be more of like owning PR and content. And so then when she came to me saying, I actually want it to be this bigger role, then I was like, oh, this is so exciting. This is great. Yes, I'll do it. You know, then fast forward, it finally, you know, needed board approval. It was a whole process. Then I had to also say, you know, that I was pregnant. And so...It was a little different where I knew it was coming. I had already expressed interest in it. So I did have a conversation with my manager of like, is this still the right time? And she was kind of like, you brought this on yourself. You said you wanted it. Like you're capable, you can do it. 

And so I think, again, having that confidence booster of if leadership thinks that I can do it, like why would I say I can't? But I did spend some of the time winding down my  IC role. So I thought more about how can I use contractors to take some of that day-to-day work off so I can be more strategic in the new role? And so it did feel like those three months going from the moment I got promoted to when I went out, I focused a lot on winding my role down kind of subconsciously because I knew I didn't have capacity to do both, right? 

AW: Yep. Yeah, and I think we've done this a few times at Parentaly where I personally wound on a lot of stuff. I transitioned a lot, came back to a different type of role with my last leave. With Rich, we've done a lot of talking around, okay, how do we have him come back and actually launch totally new projects when he's, I mean, his role will shift pretty significantly. And you look at Alex, she came back and did a totally new role that was more aligned with what she actually wanted to be doing in that time away, allowed her to think through it, and we had planned for it. 

And so I think that the reason why I bring that up is I think there's this sort of knee-jerk reaction of, oh, no, no, no, no, job protected leave. You get your same job back when you come back. Like, that's the holy grail. You wanna get your job back. Well, guess what? For most people, that's not true. They want to grow in their career or they want to do things differently. And so instead of us sort of…I don't know, succumbing to this idea of, oh, steady state, they're gonna return to the same thing because that's what they should be doing. I think we should challenge that and say, no, actually, what would the best version of you and your job look like?

Because for most of us, we're not living that best version of our role right now. And this is our opportunity to do that because now I'm never gonna take a parental leave again. There will never be this moment where I will wind down my work and have the opportunity to reinvent myself. But people who take parental leave, they have that moment. 

JV: Yeah, I can plus one that because it felt like, again, if I were even questioning my abilities or if I could actually take it on, like becoming a mom of two instead of like going from one child to two kids, but it was kind of like, why wouldn't I? I'm not gonna stall for the next…at that point, I had six months of leave. So I'm like, do I really want to wait when this is something I've been working hard for for years? I came to this organization knowing there would be growth opportunities. And so it almost felt like I can't say no. Even if I don't think I could take it on, why would I say no? I know that I can. This is what I've been working for. 

And so I liked that I got to do it before, because as you said, I got to wind down work and then I was gone. And so when I got back, it was almost like all those little things or like the blog post I was writing were all these like smaller tactical things. I didn't have to pick them back up because they were either outsourced while I was out or just paused and then we were like actually wasn't helping the business very much. So it was, I did have the opportunity, even if I didn't realize it, to wind everything down and then start fresh with the new role, even though I was in that role for a few months before going out. 

AW: Yeah, totally. Well, I guess to end this, one thing, I'm gonna put you on the spot because I know that both of us struggle with how to answer this question. One thing that managers can do

when they have someone who is starting a new role while also expecting a child. If you had to tell them one thing, one piece of advice, what would it be? 

JV: I think just communicate openly and often. So there's no one size fits all approach to onboarding. Things change, especially in, you know, different environments, things move really fast. So if you just proactively communicate regularly and plan for both things, I feel like it kind of has to fall into place. There's a deadline, you know, so it's just do the pre-planning. Hopefully there is an onboarding plan already in place and just kind of move those timelines a little faster if you need to. I think that's my main piece of advice. 

AW: Yeah, I completely agree. I was going to say have a plan is step one. And I think you're right that managers shouldn't be afraid to talk about this because they're usually so nervous about saying the wrong thing or addressing the fact that there is a child that's about to come. 

Well, you should be talking about it a lot and you should be talking about the implication of that on work and be comfortable pushing out deadlines or bringing them forward. And I think that where we see the biggest issues is when managers kind of ignore that it's happening and think like, oh yeah, just do this onboarding plan and we'll figure it out and, no, like it is actually really difficult to onboard and make a coverage plan at the exact same time. And the best thing we can all do collectively is to talk about it and support that person in building up a plan and be realistic about it. 

All right, well, thank you so much for your time today. I know we could talk about this for hours and hours and hours, but it is something that I think is so different from generations past where...you know, in our parents' generation, you would go to a company and you would stay there forever. And so this idea of switching jobs while pregnant or expecting a child didn't happen like it's happening today. And now it's become just this really prevalent thing that is happening, that is becoming very quickly normalized, and yet people are really afraid of it. So it was really fun to talk through it with you. 

Last plug I will say is for those of you who are interviewing while expecting, looking to switch to a new company, check out our tenure database. We have crowdsourced over 250 tenure policies so we can show you what companies require in terms of your employment time before you qualify for paid parental leave. And if your company does not provide paid parental leave before 12 months, you can use that database and share it with them and try and convince them to lower their work requirements for a paid parental leave.