You can run, but you can't hide that baby bump from your company forever. Your coworkers and manager will probably catch on that there's a growing human in that stomach and not just a ton of poor diet choices. So what happens next? When you're expecting, what should you expect from the rest of the working world?
I talked to two women in the Boston tech community who have been there, done that: Jody Rose, executive director of New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA), and Jessica Iandiorio, SVP of marketing at Mirakl. Both ladies have had multiple babies and took time to share with me what it's like to be pregnant and working. Here's what they had to tell me.
Olivia Vanni: What have your personal experiences been like being pregnant while working?
Jess Iandiorio:It’s just such an inherent conflict. I’m on my third child, and over each pregnancy my role has come with increased ownership, increased responsibility and increased management.
I have personal heartbreak when I miss something happening with my children and I have professional heartbreak when I miss something happening with my team. Over the last two pregnancies, that’s been the hardest. I want to be there with at work because I’m invested - I’ve done the hiring, helped them build their skills and put us in a good place to succeed - but it’s heartbreaking to have to leave and detach myself.
Jody Rose:I will say that with one of my pregnancies, when I told my manager at the time, they were extremely supportive. I was not treated as if I were about to leave. I was still treated as a critical part of team. No one made an assumption that I wasn’t coming back. That was healthy and helpful for me.
Another place that I worked was pretty overt about its assumptions. They continually asked, “Are you coming back? I know you value time with your family, so what are you thinking?” Those were all assumptions that were unneeded. Yes, my children are important to me, and I want to spend time with my family. But the assumption is that if family is important, work isn’t. That’s not true. It was pretty difficult for me to navigate. I was left out of conversations and wasn’t as valued as I was before I let everyone know I was pregnant.
OV: Why do companies freak out when they hear an employee is with child?
JI: You’ve made a commitment to an organization by taking this role, but there’s still that fear on the employer side that maybe you won’t come back. They’re afraid, “What are we going to do with her?” I have to show them I’m not falling off the face of the earth. With each pregnancy, I have given a lot more back to my company than the last. I know they need me and I have to find that right balance of tending to an infant and not disappearing.
For me, my career has always been my first baby. I’ve nurtured it throughout the years, and it’s never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be working. I’m not selfless enough to be a stay at home parent, but I still have to deal with people’s assumptions. It is annoying for someone to constantly ask if you’re sticking around after the baby is born. Luckily, I haven’t experienced this with my current company. It’s an unnecessary conversation, and I don’t like the assumption behind it.
OV: What do tech companies need to do when faced with a pregnant employee?
JI: I’ve talked to so many women working in early stage companies who’ve reached out to me. The family policies aren’t there yet, so when they find out they’re pregnant, they’re scared to death. I would tell companies to pay less attention to what’s legally required and more attention to making it work for families. There’s the reality that everyone has to deal with it, so they need to make it fair and equal to everyone. They should talk about it beforehand because without knowing there’s a support system in place, pregnant employees might think they have to find a new job at a company that will support them as soon as possible so they can earn their leave. It won’t hurt you to make a statement that you will support families - even at the early stage of growth.
JR: Don’t make an assumption. Don’t even ask that question. The assumption you should make is the same as what you assumed before anyone got pregnant: That your employees are committed to their work. Unless they tell you otherwise, that’s what you should continue to believe. Once you assume they might be leaving, the employee starts to feel devalued and like their contribution is seen as less critical to the success of the business. When you have working parents, you have employees who are committed to balance, being successful at work and at home. It should be seen as a benefit, not a hindrance.
OV: Are you dealing with this challenge on your own team?
JR: I have millennials on my team now. Two have recently married and have both indicated they want to have a family. I think it’s important to talk about family planning before anyone comes to you saying they’re pregnant. You want them to know they’re in a family-friendly office and that it’s not a hindrance to an organization, but something that can add to employees happiness. You should embrace it and then figure out what happens next.
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