Does pregnancy put you out of the game?

Renowned workplace consultant and mum, Lynn Taylor, gives her take on the best strategies for handling pregnancy in the workplace

Serena Williams won the Australian Open whilst (secretly) two months pregnant. Mandy Minella, instead, told the media she was pregnant when she took to Wimbledon earlier this month. There are clearly different ways of dealing with pregnancy in a highly competitive arena – but what is the best strategy for the workplace?

Is a particular reason Serena Williams and other high-powered women might keep their pregnancy a secret?

There are several reasons why it’s better to wait until absolutely necessary to make your announcement.

First, you want to make sure your pregnancy goes smoothly before making it public.

Second, if you’re an executive in a corporate position, or at any level, and you make the announcement, you have to be prepared for some backward-thinking concerns, spoken or unspoken.

High-visibility women are wise to do one thing: make the decision that empowers them the most, whether that’s announcing a pregnancy or not. If a celebrity decides to “keep mum on being a mum,” she has every right. The advantage, in the case of Serena Williams and others – is that the focus of fans and media remains on her talents, as it should – not on her pregnancy relative to her career.

After all, one has really nothing to do with the other, and creating that buzz would be a distraction for everyone, and possibly even for her.

Realistically, are pregnant women perceived differently?

Unfortunately, still in this modern day and age, there is an unspoken bias that pregnant women may not stay committed to their jobs.

Discrimination laws can’t stop behaviour or stereotyping, but they’re an indication that the problem runs deep.

In the U.S., the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, such as leave and health insurance, and any other term or condition of employment.

Ironically, the length of maternity leaves has decreased in recent years. One reason may be due to the advancement in medical sciences, and the development of medicinal products like Balance Activ that assuages the post-birth phases and retains health quicker.

That’s according to a report in the Washington Post in March 2017: “The average number of weeks employers are giving workers actually fell slightly over the past decade, even as a greater percentage of companies offered 12 weeks or more in annual leave, according to new data from a nationally representative sample of more than 900 companies.”

If employers are not progressive, realizing the valued investment in every employee –including those who must take time off – they’re not thinking in the 21st century. Whether they’re hiring, considering assigning projects or promotions, they must focus on the bigger picture of merit and contributions, to stay profitable. Savvy managers know how to temporarily and creatively fill the absent time with staff members or temporary consultants, for example.

Is it possible to get a new job when you have started showing?

Absolutely. Be upfront with employers and focus on your skills sets and how they match up with the job opening. Offer at least a general idea of your plans, such as arrangements for childcare. You want to show that you’re proactive and are career-minded. If they seem hesitant, and you want flexibility, you might suggest hourly consulting. This was a choice I made when pregnant with my son, and I was thankful to be able to telecommute a few hours a week while I was gone. I was invited back, too.

Looking the part is critical, too. Choose your wardrobe carefully when you’re showing – first impressions count. Consider scarves and accessories that convey professionalism. Wide belts can give you some “slack in your slacks,” extending your existing professional wardrobe, particularly if you’re invited in on “Casual Day.”

Cases like what happened just this week with the Iberia airline in Spain, where you are forced to take a pregnancy test, are not commonplace – but if you feel your pregnancy is a cultural issue, you might be better off looking elsewhere!

Any tips for female executives dealing with pregnancy at work?

  • Know your timing. There’s no rush to broadcast the news until it’s obvious.
  • Anticipate reactions. Think about the response from your boss and colleagues and be prepared for answers. Question such as, “Are you staying for the length of your term,” or “How are you feeling?” may come up often. Just stay professional and answer only what feels comfortable, without making premature commitments.
  • Use emotional intelligence to allay fears and reinforce your dedication and enthusiasm throughout your pregnancy.
  • Carry yourself with pride and dignity; this is an exhilarating time of your life, so work it!
  • Look and feel your best at all times. Your attitude, posture, words, actions and appearance can all add up to making this special time even more memorable, and even beneficial to your career.

Remember that your colleagues will focus on what you focus on. Your professionalism can be contagious. Or you can hide your talents and voice under a bushel. Your role as a mom represents wisdom and power. And the skills you develop as a parent (such as patience, humour and tolerance) will surely come in handy as you manage up – and around you – on your return!

– Lynn Taylor is a world-renowned workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job. Her latest startup, KudozBelts, empowers pregnant women in particular, to accessorise with fashionable, extendable belts that “hide the gap” as the waist widens – extending one’s wardrobe.