How to Ensure a Positive Experience for Expectant Mothers at Your Organization with Emily Pevnick
Emily Pevnick, a Senior Account Executive at a public affairs firm in Chicago, is currently expecting her first child in the upcoming weeks. She enjoys her work and reports that her experience as a pregnant woman in the workplace has been positive for the most part -- save for one question she has been surprised to receive:
“Are you returning to work after giving birth?”
Always caught off guard by this question and having had enough, Emily recently created a Facebook post as a response to people that ask this question not only directed towards her, but to the many other women that are currently pregnant and at work.
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Emily’s Facebook Post:
PSA: Stop asking pregnant women if they plan on returning to work. Although you may think it is innocent small talk, your question actually implies one or more of the following:
1. She can’t be the breadwinner in the relationship
2. She has the “luxury” to make a decision to stop earning
3. She gets some kind of “leave” from which she can return
4. Her partner is not going to act as a co-parent and she will inevitably be “primary parent”
5. She doesn’t own her own business
6. She can’t have multiple sources of income, work in the gig economy, and/or work remotely
7. Stay-at-home fathers/partners aren’t a thing
8. If she says no, you may think she doesn’t like her job
9. If she says yes, you may think she is prioritizing work over family
10. She owes you a binary answer when she may still be figuring it out for herself
11. If you are her coworker, how she answers your question may determine her success at the company
12. Her employer doesn’t accommodate working moms
13. Society (you) still hasn’t normalized working moms
14. Personal family decisions can be turned into casual small talk
I recognize there is often (although not always) a generational gap involved in the question. I also recognize not all women are offended by the question. But for all the reasons I laid out above, stop asking. Maybe instead try: “Are you planning or able to take off any time from work?” And she will tell you as much as she wants. Families will make the personal decision that is right for them and you will find out when it happens.
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Emily received a tremendous amount of response to her post on Facebook. Some of the comments included:
"Also, to the same point, the assumptions about those of us that make a sacrifice to stay home are just as bad... when I made the decision to stay home, my husband was a teacher and we decided it was worth the financial sacrifice for us and we made HUGE budget changes.... if one more person told me how nice it was that I had the “luxury” of staying home I may have blown my top! Nothing luxurious about it in our case! People are much too judgmental and intrusive but what people need to know is everyone makes the best decisions for them and their families, and therefore, those are the best decisions! This is just the beginning! Congrats girl! Excited for you! Being a parent is the best!"
"I’ve never excused generational gaps when it comes to asking inappropriate questions or making inappropriate statements. The question is being asked today, it should be appropriate today."
"I am on maternity leave now and have been asked this several times. I am definitely ready to go back to work (I really love my job), but I am not ready to leave my little one. It's quite infuriating as it makes me feel like a) I don't love my child enough and b) I am already terrified to leave my child with someone else, so please make it 10x worse by questioning my daycare decision."
"You made me think! I will reframe my conversations because of you. Thanks"
"This is really on point and well said. I particularly like the suggestions for how you might rephrase the questions. Two things I would add are, “I know it’s hard/intense/tough,” and “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” Acknowledging the challenge and offering to help are two non-offensive things that anyone can and should do."
"I was asked that all the time! Thanks for posting this. Crazy how much society does not get that you can be a great mom and work at the same time!"
"When men make comments like this I like to ask them if they are planning on going back to work after their wife has a baby. It’s obnoxious but usually deserved!"
It’s clear that many women have similar feelings about questions around returning to work. Holistic was able to sit down with Emily to chat about her experience and the experiences of some of her friends and gain some valuable tips for employers and pregnant women in the workplace, especially those in smaller organizations or start-ups. Following these simple guidelines will help ensure a positive experience for your current and future teams.
Create a safe space for women
Creating a safe space where your employees can feel secure to have these conversations is a must. Pregnant women are already going through different levels of anxiety and feelings, especially in the first trimester, so being accessible to and supportive of them provides relief.
Create or begin to think about a maternity leave policy
Making sure that you have a parental leave policy articulated, or at least that you’re talking about it with your employees -- is important. Having an articulated or spelled-out policy, employee handbook, or talking about policy during the interview process eases everything down the road and shows that a company values women and will support them in all life stages. There is also an inherent incentive for employers to have a defined maternity leave policy; it helps all members of the team and their clients plan better. If you don’t have a maternity leave policy yet, what better resource to help create one than working with your employee who is pregnant!
Address questions and issues in a timely manner
Work can become very busy, very quickly. It’s easy for people to forget questions asked by employees, but it's on the employees’ minds all the time, especially if she is pregnant. It’s important to make sure you designate someone in the office to handle these questions and conversations in a timely manner; this shows the employee knows that she is a valued member of the team. Ideally, there would be an HR person to have this conversation, but if it’s a smaller company or a start-up without an official HR person, then designate someone to follow up in a timely manner with the employee so she can financially and logistically plan.
For the employee: Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Don't be afraid to ask questions and try to customize a plan with your employer to your personal situation. Ask if there is any flexibility with the policy and if you can take more time off unpaid. The worst an employer can say is “no,” but at least you aren’t left wondering and are being open with your employer about your desires.
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Someone on your team having a child and growing their family is exciting and should be celebrated by all involved. It takes a village to raise a child, and that includes support from employers.