Five years ago, I was #pregnantatwork. My personal experience varies greatly from others I have read of recently, so I felt compelled to share my own story, which includes my top 4 ways co-workers and leaders can create an inclusive environment for expecting moms. The articles that sparked my reflection were PregnantAtWork – What, When and How to tell your Employer the news and Washington Woman Fired for Being Pregnant. There is so much that we can all do to easily improve the working pregnancy experience.
Shh…don’t tell my mom but my boss knew before she did. The story is as comical as it sounds. It wasn’t planned and I completely blame my husband. I requested that he call to set up the initial doctor’s appointment. He discovered that they didn’t want to see us for another 3 weeks and only had mid-day appointments. My husband also shared that he gave his boss a heads up. In a sheer moment of panic, I inquired if I should tell my leader.
He said, “well you will need time off and my boss knows so why not.”
It was due to a mix of first-time naivety and excited nerves that I didn’t ponder it more. Moments later, I sent my leader an instant message asking if we could chat privately.
I awkwardly and excitedly blurted it out to my boss. My leader’s gut reaction was immediate relief, as he had expected bad news, and he quickly offered congratulations. My leader had the only response any mom-to-be should receive which was excitement, reassurance and confidentiality. It was a completely uneventful announcement and he shared how awesome it was being a parent. So that’s how my boss found out I was 5 weeks pregnant the day after I knew, and I wouldn’t change it because the news was met with the appropriate reaction. And yes, every time I have told that story I am met with shock since most wait until at least their first doctor’s appointment.
Well before it was Facebook official, my co-workers on location easily observed that I was pregnant. It was obvious when my caffeine habit disappeared overnight and crackers were routinely consumed at 8 am. One politely pretended not to notice and the other asked some questions. Neither bothered me as both were enthusiastic about the news once officially in the know.
As time passed my feet swelled and my co-workers’ support continued. Five years later, I remember them reminding me to get up and move and reorganizing my desk layout so I could prop my feet. I was particularly uncomfortable one day as my heartburn was out of control. My co-worker offered for us to do a drug store run for antacids. There was some jesting when I almost bought the normal size bottle when the mega size was buy one, get one. Unfortunately, those were not the only two oversized bottles I bought during those 9 months. Towards the end of my pregnancy, my feet expanded once again and I was no longer able to wear the sized up, wide dress flats I bought a couple months earlier. I started wearing sneakers and no one said a word. I mentioned it to my boss and offered to get a note which he reassured was unnecessary. You might wonder why these seemingly small little things are still seared into my memory but they were signs that my symptoms were noticed, supported and accommodated.
My team threw me a surprise baby shower. We were a tight-knit group who recognized birthdays and weddings and my pregnancy was treated as another worthy milestone. It wasn’t something they had to do but wanted to do. It reinforced that they cared and wanted to celebrate this important life changing event. Something simpler than the shower would have served the same purpose but finding a way to recognize the occasion meant a lot.
One of the biggest worries about being pregnant at work is the concern that it may be seen negatively as a decreased commitment, or, even worse, could create discriminatory situations. In an engaging environment, I still questioned. I found my concerns to be completely unfounded. No one once asked about me flexing time for appointments. All assumed that I would use my full FMLA time. I continued performing and was treated as I would have been if I wasn’t expecting. There were still moments where I worried, but my leader provided reassurance. My co-workers and I partnered to develop plans while I would be out and when I returned. Most importantly, I know that my year-end performance review was treated based on my work product while present and I have no doubt that my pregnancy had zero impact.
The keys to creating a positive work environment for moms-to-be are simple. They align with the golden rules of any associate experiencing a life-changing event with health implications.
4 Steps to Create a Positive #preganantatwork Experience
- Respond to the announcement with excitement and congratulations
- Be observant and provide support and accommodations
- Find a way to celebrate the life-changing event
- Reassure your employee that performance reviews and career path will be based on holistic work product
It boils down to knowing others care about mom and bump. I encourage all of us to create more happy stories. Being #pregnantatwork is a reality for many and it is up to all of us to make that a positive experience which leads to improved associate engagement and higher employee retention.