BALANCING PREGNANCY AND WORK
A woman finds out she’s pregnant and the mixture of joy, excitement and nerves is quickly replaced by anxiety about how to announce the news at work.
Sadly, this isn’t an uncommon scenario or an unfounded one – according to the government’s Pregnancy and Maternity-Related Discrimination and Disadvantage survey, 77% of mothers said they had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy at work, maternity leave and/ or on return from maternity leave.
As Danusia Malina-Derben - C Suite Consultant & Founder of School for Mothers – highlights, it is possible to navigate work and pregnancy in a way that feels positive for you. “Many women feel worried and conflicted about announcing a pregnancy. Women are aware, perhaps subconsciously, that mothers are viewed differently and it’s assumed their priorities shift.”
As she points out, most women’s commitment to their careers doesn’t magically disappear once they’re with child and the fact that they are shouldn’t hamper their future potential.
“[The key is] to be prepared, not for every eventuality, but for the ones [you] can influence.”
Her advice? To take care of your wellbeing and plan for the vision you have for the future. Many women have managed this successfully – below they share their wisdom on how you can do it too.
WHEN TO TELL YOUR EMPLOYER ABOUT YOUR PREGNANCY
The number of women saying they are worried about announcing their pregnancy has nearly doubled since 2013 from 12 to 21%. It’s a sad reality that any joy a woman may feel can be so often marred by such anxiety.
“As a woman, telling your employer or manager you’re pregnant can be one of the hardest things you have to do,” agrees Hannah Martin, founder of Talented Ladies Club. You know that once the truth is out, any prejudices that they (or others in your company) may have about expectant mothers will impact the way they see you and the decisions they make about your career.”
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. You can leave the announcement until 15 weeks before your due date (although many choose to speak up earlier) and you’re protected by the law to receive maternity leave and pay, paid time off for antenatal care and support from your manager.
Despite all this, it’s understandable that the nerves can kick in. Be sure to speak to your manager face to face before sending your announcement in writing or putting the news on social media. Choose a quiet moment when you can give each other your full attention and make sure to put emphasis on discussing forward steps. Most importantly of all, though it’s natural for women to feel the need to people please, don’t use an apologetic tone when sharing the news – pregnancy is nothing to be ashamed of.
NAVIGATING HORMONAL CHANGES
“Though unique to each woman, the physical and hormonal changes that occur within the body can impact our patience and stress levels. These feelings can further be exacerbated if your day to day working life already causes you high levels of stress,” explains Lucinda Pollard, Therapy Business Manager at Priory Wellbeing Centre, Birmingham.
Working while pregnant is going to present some challenges. Hormonal and emotional changes are as inevitable as the physical ones in pregnancy so your best option is to be as upfront about this with your boss as you feel comfortable to be. As explained by the NCT, high levels of progesterone and oestrogen can cause morning sickness, tiredness and mood swings, making you more likely to feel emotionally vulnerable. Though no-one likes to see pregnancy as an ‘excuse’, it’s important that you consider it in your working life. If there are clients that are particularly difficult or tasks that feel highly stressful or challenging, be sure to plan ahead for these and prepare for any negative feelings that may come up. If you can see those feelings coming, they’re less likely to overwhelm you.
Be sure to factor in a little time to decompress afterwards too, or to find a safe space either in or near work to retreat to when it all feels a bit much – it’s much better for your health and your productivity to deal with these changes in the moment than to let them fester and distract you for the entire day or week.
WHEN YOU'RE UP FOR PROMOTION, PAYRISE OR NEW JOB
Typical – you’ve been working towards that promotion for months and just when it feels within your grasp, you find out you’re pregnant.
Being refused for a pay rise or promotion on the grounds of pregnancy is actually illegal but that knowledge doesn’t make the navigation of such a conundrum any easier. Should you still go up for it? Won’t your boss just find another excuse to say no that doesn’t put them in a discrimination tight spot? These are the same questions women often ask themselves when they’ve seen the perfect job to apply for, too.
First of all, speak to another woman who’s gone for a promotion while pregnant at work – turning to a network of mothers that have been through the same scenarios and can offer advice and support is priceless. Also make sure you address the issue head on with your employer or prospective employer (though you have absolutely no obligation to share news of pregnancy in an application, if you’re already showing it might be something you feel comfortable to do).
Parenthood should be seen as an asset, not a setback and if your employer is committed to keeping you long term, this should be highlighted to them: the Modern Family Index survey found that 51% of people surveyed think mothers are calmer in a crisis, 47% thing they’re more diplomatic and 44% think they make the best team players. Take pride in your new circumstances and see them for the advantage they are.
KNOWING YOUR MATERNITY RIGHTS AT WORK
It’s important to remember that you have legal rights whilst pregnant at work in the UK , and any employer breaking them is committing a serious crime.
So how does maternity leave and pay work and what if I want to reduce my hours? Per gov.uk, eligible employees can take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave and Statutory Maternity Pay is available to eligible employees and can be paid for up to 39 weeks. maternityaction.co.uk states that you could ask your employer about reducing your working hours when pregnant but this will mean a reduction in pay which may affect your maternity pay.
Going back to work and reducing hours after maternity leave? citizensadvice.org.uk says that you’re entitled to return to the same job if you’ve been away 26 weeks or less with your pay and conditions being at the same level or better than before. You can ask your employer for flexible working but they do not have to agree to it. If they do agree to flexible working, you can ask for a trial period to test out changes.
Ultimately, although there are so many statistics out there that speak of the underlying discrimination that still exists for new or expectant mothers, this doesn’t have to be the case for you. Parenthood, as highlighted, brings higher levels of empathy and generosity – two qualities that every company can benefit from. The best thing you can do for yourself, as Lucinda points out, is to be “open and honest”:
“We often struggle with our inner thoughts , which can convince us that our employers see us differently when pregnant. We may question whether our boss perceives us as inefficient or has concerns about our ability to do our job now and in the future.
However, often being open and honest with your employer as soon as you feel comfortable can give you the opportunity to speak about your worries and concerns. This can prevent you from making assumptions or overthinking and reduce the negative impact on your emotional and mental health that can occur when you do this.”