Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Would you hire a pregnant woman? Microsoft did.

Would you hire a pregnant woman who was planning on taking nine months of maternity leave after the birth of her baby?
My guess is: Probably not. 
There's no denying it: Women are still discrimitated against in the workforce. As a woman working in an industry where women and other minorities are underrepresented, I've felt the unfairness that such an off-balance environment can create. Still, I'm lucky. Being a woman in tech, I've had more positive experiences than negative ones, and that encourages me to keep speaking my mind although some might find it controversial. But this blog post is not meant to focus on the negative, because there are so many stories out there highlighting the issues we have in our industry. This blog post is meant to do the opposite: I'd like to tell the story of how Microsoft employed a pregnant woman who was planning on taking nine months of maternity leave after the birth of her baby. 

Let's start from the beginning... 
I approached the CTO of Microsoft Norway a couple of years ago, telling him I was interested in a certain position at the company. The position I wanted was not available at the time, but I was in no rush to make a career change. I simply wanted him to know that when the time came and the position became available, I wanted him to think of me. 
A year went by, and I received an email: "Still interested?". Two positions were opening up: The one I had wanted and a similar one that they thought might be an even better fit for me. I was thrilled. And to be honest, quite disappointed. I was 4 months pregnant and my first thought was: There's no way they'll hire me now. Because not only was I pregnant, I was also planning on taking nine months of maternity leave. Which in effect meant them having an unmanned position for over a year. 
There are plenty of laws against pregnancy discrimination, both in Norway and the U.S. Despite this, we keep hearing stories in the news about employers who manage to get around these laws by coming up with other reasons for not employing pregnant women: They found someone who was more qualified, or they were not the right fit for the job. Some of these cases go to trial, others are never reported.
I replied to the email I had received, confirming that I was very interested. I also informed them of my pregnancy and my planned maternity leave. In Norway, 9 months of maternity leave is completely normal so I wasn't expecting any big surprises there, but I still had a feeling that keeping a position unmanned for a year could be troublesome. I mean, the position is there for a reason, if they could do without it the position wouldn't have existed in the first place.
After a couple of rounds of interviewing and personality testing, Microsoft presented me with an offer and I signed. This was in May 2015 and I had my first day with the company one month ago.

Diversity and inclusion at Microsoft
Since I've joined Microsoft, I've come to realize just how big of a focus diversity and inclusion is in this organization. Kathleen Hogan, the Executive Vice President of HR recently published a blog post on "Ensuring equal pay for equal work", an initiative started to ensure equal pay, not only for women, but also for racial and ethnic minorities. For womans day, Microsoft lauched the #MakeWhatsNext campaign to celebrate women inventors and inspire the next generation to make what's next. Last but not least: diversity and inclusion is not a finite goal, it's something that needs constant work and maintenance. Therefore, Microsoft has a Global Diversity and Inclusion network that offers mentoring, organizes event and ensures that diversity and inclusion will always be on the agenda.
These are some of the many reasons why I decided to join Microsoft and although I had my doubts as to whether they would hire a pregnant woman with nine months of maternity leave planned, I haven't had a single regret so far. If you'd like to know how my first two weeks were, I wrote about my first impressions in this post.
Now I'd like to ask you: Would you hire a pregnant woman?
Microsoft did.

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