"Are you planning on getting pregnant in the next two years?" is a question best left to physicians, and definitely not hiring managers or mothers-in-law. While the question isn't, technically, illegal in the United States, it can definitely lead towards illegal discrimination if you ask it. (Asking questions about race, gender, pregnancy status, etc., aren't illegal, but once you know the answer you have to be super careful not to take that into consideration in your hiring decision.) Wise hiring managers and recruiters know to stay far, far away from such questions.
But what if the job "candidate" is an actual political candidate? Is it okay to ask a politician when (if) she plans to reproduce? New Zealand is currently battling this out.
Jacinda Ardern, 37, was elected Labour party leader after the previous leader, Andrew Little, stepped down yesterday. And the question is, does she want to have a baby? A talk show host, Mark Richardson, argues that this is a valid question for Ardern. He said:
I think this is a legitimate question for New Zealand, because she could be the Prime Minister running this country - she has our best interests at heart, so we need to know these things.
If you are the employer of a company you need to know that type of thing from the woman you are employing ... the question is, is it OK for a PM to take maternity leave while in office?
It is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace. It is unacceptable, it is unacceptable.
It is a woman's decision about when they choose to have children and it should not predetermine whether or not they are given a job or have job opportunities.
Ardern, should she choose to have a baby, certainly wouldn't be the first politician to do so. Former Massachusetts governor Jane Swift made headlines when she gave birth to twins while in office. Swift didn't take much time off--holding meetings during maternity leave. Licia Ronzulli, Italian member of the European Parliament, brought her baby in a sling so that she could vote.
But you know who doesn't make headlines when they have babies while working? Pretty much everyone else but Marissa Mayer.
I totally understand why Richardson would be concerned about someone needing to take a leave of absence--it can be difficult for any business and, perhaps difficult for a country. But, I don't have any sympathy for the idea that that potential hardship makes it an appropriate question to ask.
People need to take leaves of absence from time to time. Better a new baby than a heart attack, cancer, or a sick parent. Yes, a baby is (generally) planned, but you also have nine months of notice to prepare for the leave of absence. (Not that your employee is required to notify you as soon as she conceives.)
In the United States, it's illegal to discriminate against women based on pregnancy status. I'd argue that includes future pregnancy plans. Arden says the same is true in New Zealand, as it well should be.