Oh Shit You Are Pregnant, Now What?
Updated: Jul 29
While the number of female senior leaders has grown over time, women still find themselves under represented at every level of leadership. Despite the valiant efforts of women and men before us, the concept of “the broken rung” still exists. According to Leanin.org Women in the Workplace 2019 report, “1 in 4 women think their gender has played a role in missing out on a raise, promotion or a chance to get ahead.” The same report also states that 33% of women and 11% of men have seen or heard of biased behaviour toward women and 73% of women reported experiencing microagressions - everyday discrimination which is rooted in bias. With so much evidence of pre-existing bias in the workplace, its no wonder #momguilt kicks in before we even decide to have kids and continues in to every other phase of motherhood. This is the second part of my #momguilt blog: Oh shit you are pregnant, now what?
So, after all the back and forth on what having a baby might do to your career, you decided to pull the goalie. Welcome to the next phase of #momguilt. Now, you have to tell your boss. You know this should feel exciting but if you’re like me you are fraught with nerves (see my first blog on this topic). You play the moment over and over in your mind waiting for the right time. You know your boss will say congratulations but you worry they are secretly panicked and cursing you. So begins the first phase of #momguilt as your spidey senses pick up on the following workplace cues that suggest your leaders and co-workers good wishes have something more behind them:
40% of employers claim to have seen at least one pregnant woman in their workplace ‘take advantage’ of their pregnancy.
A third of employers believe that women who become pregnant/new mothers are ‘generally less interested in career progression’ when compared to other employees in their company.
Four in 10 (41%) employers agreed that pregnancy in the workplace puts ‘an unnecessary cost burden’ on the workplace.
Half (51%) of employers agree that there is sometimes resentment amongst employees towards women who are pregnant or on maternity leave.
Around a third (36%) of employers disagree that it is easy to protect expectant or new mothers from discrimination in the workplace.
As soon as I discovered I was pregnant for the first time the guilt kicked in. Was the timing wrong? Had I been in my role long enough? What if I had morning sickness and couldn’t be in the office, or worse got sick at work? Would people look at me differently and skip over me for good projects? Would I be written off because I was going on leave soon, or assumed to be checked out or disengaged? The spiral continued. Unfortunately, with my first pregnancy I suffered a late and therefore public miscarriage, which introduced another type of guilt. Did I do something wrong? Will others wonder if I did something wrong? What could I have done better? With my second pregnancy, which was wrought with fear, I once again began to worry about missing out on promotions, training opportunities, projects etc. I obviously couldn’t apply, could I? That would be wrong, being pregnant, wouldn’t it? So you don’t apply, or you do apply, either way #momguilt. Even though, (for the record), the Canadian Human Rights Commission states, that decisions on awarding jobs or promotions should not be discriminatory. Promotions available to all employees should not be denied to pregnant employees, or to employees who might become pregnant. The reality is, #momguilt.
Navigating leave is a whole other ordeal. Do you take a full year, 18 months? Will your employer think you are less committed or uninterested in advancement if you do? What if you want a shorter leave? Does that make you a bad mother? What if you don't want to go back to work at all, isn't that in contradiction to the whole women's movement? Then, how will you re-enter when you want to return? No matter what decision you make you feel like a stereotype. #momguilt #momguilt #momguilt
When it comes time for you to go on leave, there is another set of mixed messages. Many organizations request your computer, your phone and your access back while you are on leave so that you can “fully detach yourself” from work. However, as a dedicated employee this can actually leave you feeling isolated and disconnected, while colleagues celebrate wins or milestones in key projects you were a large part of. You miss out on key organizational announcements and potential career opportunities while you are off and come back feeling like you are starting all over versus returning to an organization and team that you have contributed significantly too. #momguilt.
And what about fair acknowledgement for the contributions you made during the time you are pregnant? Ontario Government and Canadian Human Rights guidelines state, “ Employees who are on parental leave are also entitled to the same pay raise (if pay changed while they were gone) that they would have been entitled to had they not been on leave, you should not be penalized, and must be paid the higher wage. As well, you earn credits to length of employment and seniority.” However, moms on maternity leave often feel like they are overlooked for pay increases or promotions and that they take a hit at year end bonus time. Being on maternity leave is not a break in employment and should not be a reason to hold you back. However, as One Canadian article notes, it actually creates morale issues and employee complaints from those who haven't gone on leave, when people return from parental leave and receive promotions. Our workplace cultures are not supporting women through the pregnancy and leave process and hence, #Momguilt. I’ve personally witnessed someone being refused consideration for a role because “she was on maternity leave”. She later found out this was the reason and quickly left the company.
As moms, from the moment we decide to start a family we feel like we have to defend the decisions we make. How do we create workplace cultures that truly embrace motherhood and all the phases that come with it? We want to start a #momguilt revolution. If your workplace does this really well, please comment below or private message us to share your example!