By Beverly Weinstein
Dear Bev: How do I tell my boss I’m pregnant?
Turns out, the hard part isn’t breaking the news. Coming back to the office after maternity leave and working out the delicate balancing act between work and new baby is the bigger challenge, according to several new mothers I talked to recently.
Even though it may be almost 50 years since the Women’s Liberation movement shook things up for women in the workplace, issues around new working mothers are still being debated. Major newspapers and magazines regularly address businesses balancing “boomlets” of pregnant workers. (See The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com, Forbes, The Washington Post for more news on modern motherhood.)
Then and Now
“When I was having babies, I felt I had to make it a secret until it showed,” said an executive at a major media organization, who began her career and her family in the early 1980s. “The first time, I didn’t tell until I was five and a half months along. I was the first person to ever get pregnant in the ad sales department at the company. I worked out the maternity policy with my boss.”
Nowadays, companies are considerably better prepared. “We have women coming and going all the time on maternity leave,” said the same executive, who is now a SVP. “We just prepare for it, and cover for their responsibilities. We do paternity leave now, too -two weeks.”
Most newly pregnant women in today’s workplace wouldn’t think of waiting five months. “I knew I’d have to take time for doctor’s appointments,” explained an ad agency media professional. “So I let my direct boss know well in advance of the three month mark, which was when I told everyone else at work.”
Today companies are required by law to provide a designated room for breastfeeding, an accommodation that didn’t exist in the past.
Breaking the News: The Law Is on Your Side
Despite laws protecting expectant mothers, some new moms are still anxious about telling their bosses and prepared themselves for negative responses.
“I waited until I was four months along,” said another media executive who recently had a child. “I knew I couldn’t get fired and was aware of the fact that laws protected me, but if the response wasn’t good, I was prepared to leave.”
Another media exec said she “agonized over it for weeks, because I had only been there for a few months.” “It was a huge stress, but my boss was very nice about it,” she admits. “Though, the second thing out of her mouth was, ‘Oh, you’re going to come back, right?’ ”
Returning to Work
Most working mothers admit the most difficult part is returning to work and defining expectations for your return. “Before you leave, have a discussion with your boss,” advises one new mom. “Just finding out about hours, flex time and job share are important. You won’t get everything, but you won’t know until you ask.”
“I phased back into work,” said another mom. “It was better than walking away from spending 24/7 with my infant to five days a week at work. My boss said she knew my needs were changing, and she was willing to discuss things.”
“When you first come back from maternity leave your hormones are still raging,” said one mother whose employer wasn’t flexible. “I was already tearful the first few days, then my boss said: ‘You need to say goodbye to your husband and son and get on the road for three weeks.’ ”
Having an understanding manager helps, but some managers won’t make concessions that change an employees’ level of involvement and responsibility. “I had one new mother ask if she could work three days a week and I said no,” explained one manager. “It’s a senior-level job and requires a full-time person. I need an employee on board for the full work load.”
“It’s almost an expectation by lots of women that they are entitled to work from home, and it may not be realistic based on business needs,” noted another senior female executive with grown children.