One of the things I worried about most when I got pregnant was telling work. Pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work is endemic in the UK. Most women will experience some sort of discrimination. It’s luck if you don’t.*
Plus, I love my job. Not always on a Monday morning. But in general. It is endlessly fulfilling and stimulating. And I adore managing my team – I am proud of them every day.
Work and my relationship have always been the primary axes of my life – and I want it to stay that way as I add a third, our baby. Things will change – but women have babies all the time, and that shouldn’t mean we lose our careers.**
So I was worried about telling work. Perhaps they’d think I was less committed to my career. Maybe they’d expect my brain to turn to mush. Or that I’d start slowing myself down.
I stewed for several weeks, but as I started to show and the 12 week scan came and went, I ran out of excuses.
At 12+5, I told my boss – the chief executive. She’s got grown-up children of her own, and she brought them up as a single mum in a male-dominated industry. She’s from the first generation of women who had big careers while having a family.
Sometimes older women at work can give off a dismissive attitude towards younger women. I’ve certainly seen this in the dismissals of flexible working. It’s as if they think “We did it the hard way – why should we make allowances for you?”
These women were pioneers – they have my respect and gratitude for the doors they kicked in and the glass ceilings they smashed. But they don’t always get that my generation wants more. We want managing work and family to be a damn sight easier – and we want it as of right.
As a leader I help the parents of my team get the right balance, and I champion their right to lead and to interesting projects and career development. That’s what I want for myself.
My boss reacted well to the initial disclosure. I had underestimated her.
But one comment later from another senior manager cast a pall.
We were coming out of a meeting together, talking about a project that’s off track (no-one’s fault – circumstances). He was suggesting that maybe we should can it, and then said “Well, given your condition, maybe that’s best”.
And there it is. What I was afraid of. 17 years’ professional experience, consistently excellent reviews, the youngest divisional director they have ever had – and my pregnancy factors into a business decision. In that moment I nearly howled.
Look, I’m not accusing anyone of behaving illegally. The senior manager is not my boss. Canning the project is not a done deal. My company will meet all of their legal obligations and more – our policies are generous to a fault.
But my hard-won position, the respect I am held in, the opportunity to win more interesting projects, to extend my reach into more of our operations, to win more resources for my team – that’s what I am afraid of losing. I want them to see the tough forthright operator I have always been. I’m not just a pregnant woman needing allowances made.
Maybe we should can the project – maybe we shouldn’t. But my pregnancy and absence for six months (and make no mistake, my job will be covered by an interim) should play no part in that decision – and no-one should it imply it will.
So. I’ve done the deed and told work. I hope this comment will prove to be an isolated aberration. I will tell my colleague how inappropriate it was.
On the plus side, the first trimester fog and fatigue is fading, so I have a few months to get everything done I want to before I get into the final stretch.
When did you tell your boss and colleagues you were pregnant? How did it go? How are you finding being pregnant at work?
* If you’re having a tough time at work cos you’re pregnant or a parent, get some help. Start with your union – and for the love of god if you’re pregnant or a new mum, working and not in a union, join one!
Don’t want all your legal fees paid if you get discriminated against? Don’t want your flexible working application looked over by an expert? For sure, save the tenner a month. But it’s a false economy.
** Mums reading will be shaking their heads at my naïveté, I’m sure. And I know it won’t be that straightforward. How important work is will change. My life will be as different as it can be when Little One comes. I’m looking forward to it. But babyhood is a season: I have thirty years left in the workforce, and I’m darned if they’re not going to be interesting, fulfilling and rewarding in all senses. In the long run that’s good for me and for Little One. So no: I’m not stepping back, and I’m not giving up on all the things I still want to do in my career.