Female employees fear pregnancy discrimination at work. Here’s how to break the big news to your boss.
Even a queen of oversharing felt compelled to keep her pregnancy a secret.
Reality star Kylie Jenner was rumored to be expecting her first child since last fall, but she waited until after she actually gave birth to confirm the news.
“My pregnancy was one I chose not to do in front of the world,” Jenner, 20, wrote on Instagram last Sunday, three days after welcoming her daughter Stormi with boyfriend Travis Scott on Feb. 1. “I knew for myself I needed to prepare for this role of a lifetime in the most positive, stress free, and healthy way I knew how.”
But even women who aren’t scrutinized by the tabloids often try to keep their pregnancies private for as long as possible – especially at work.
That’s because many female employees are worried about being mommy-tracked – and for good reason. A 2006 U.K. survey found that 76% of bosses would not hire a candidate if they knew she would become pregnant within six months of starting a job. And in 2010, there were more than 6,000 complaints of pregnancy-based discrimination filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Which is why 75% of surveyed women in a 2013 survey said that expecting moms should wait until the last possible minute to tell their bosses that they were with child. More than half felt that their progress up the career ladder stalled after they disclosed; half said they were overlooked for a promotion, and more than 30% saw more junior-level employers progress faster at work.
A former NYC daily newspaper reporter, who wished to remain anonymous, told Moneyish that she kept her pregnancy secret until just two months before she was due. “Another woman who was a field reporter told them she was pregnant at around four months, and they grounded her on a desk,” she said – and her beat as a part-time fashion and gossip writer depended on being out and about.
So she squeezed in doctor’s appointments on her days off; which was easier to do as a part-time staffer who only had to report to the office three times a week. And she kept her baby bump under wraps by dressing to distract from her belly with blazers worn open, slightly oversized sweaters and slim pants with heels.
“Having a larger chest actually came in handy in this situation. I hate to say this, but when people are sizing you up, they see boobs and stop,” she said. “Luckily, my belly didn’t really pop until six or seven months.”
Denise Albert, cohost of “The Moms Podcast” and TheMoms.com, tried keeping her first pregnancy quiet 12 years ago when she was a senior producer at ABC. “I did not want people to know at work, because you just don’t want to be treated differently,” she told Moneyish. “I felt like I was going to have to prove myself all over again, and I had been in this industry for eight years. I had paid my dues.”
And her fears were founded. “I will never forget the day that I overheard that they were looking for people that might replace me, because somebody expected that I might not come back,” she said. “Do you think I worked this hard — I made it to a senior producer at a network by age 25 — to have a baby and never work again?”
Even “Wonder Woman” Gal Gadot hid being pregnant while filming “Batman v. Superman” – despite vomiting in corners and suffering migraines – because she didn’t want to be treated differently on set. “I gutted it out. I started to come to set with sunglasses,” she told Marie Claire. “I had this jug of water with huge pieces of ginger. One of the producers kept on asking, ‘Why are you drinking that potato water?’ They thought I’d gone Hollywood.”
You’re going to have to break the news to your supervisor at some point, however. Meredith Bodgas, editor-in-chief of Working Mother, told Moneyish that most women announce they’re expecting during their second trimester, after the greatest risk of miscarriage has passed. But every pregnancy is different; she had to tell her own boss at just 10 weeks because her morning sickness had her missing a lot of work.
“We generally say about 20 weeks (five months), when you’re most likely to be showing, that’s when you should give your manager a heads-up,” said Bodgas. “And it also gives your manager enough time to start thinking, ‘OK, what am I going to do when this person is out on maternity leave?’”
Pick the brains of working mothers that you trust on staff, who had their babies within the past couple of years, and find out what happened when they disclosed their pregnancies at this company. “It’s worth checking with them to find out how they did it,” said Bodgas. “For instance, a lot of companies say they give 16 weeks of leave, but then they actually pressure moms to come back early. So you want to have that heads-up.”
Set a one-on-one meeting with your boss. “This is not an email,” said Bodgas. “Get some time on their calendar, because this is big news that you need to discuss. Or do a phone call or video call if you are in different offices and you can’t get together.”
Dive right in and explain that you’re x-weeks pregnant, you’re due on x-date, and explain how you will continue to handle your assignments and responsibilities until then. And if you plan to return to work after having your baby, a manager will appreciate if you come armed with a plan for how things will be handled in your absence, as well as how you’ll pick up when you return.
“If you do want to remain in great standing with your manager, and be considered for promotions and raises and other great opportunities, showing that you are thinking ahead and trying to make her job easier just works in your favor,” said Bodgas.
Be upfront about what accommodations you are going to need. “I was suffering morning sickness, so I explained that I will have to call in sick a lot, and take some work-from-home days,” said Bodgas, who is expecting her second baby. “Give as much information as you feel comfortable, so that reasonable accommodations can be made to work out for everyone.”
As far as your coworkers are concerned, you should tell the teams that report to you, since your maternity leave will directly impact them. “Let them know that the dialogue remains open – you’re pregnant, you’re not dead – and you are willing to pull your weight as you have always done,” said Bodgas. “But if you are sick, or if you have complications, there might be some changes, and here is how we’re going to handle them. And then after I give birth, this is what’s going to happen, and any questions or concerns can be brought to this person.”
And feel free to tell colleagues you are friendly with – this is good news to be celebrated, after all. And don’t worry about telling the rest of the office; good news travels fast. “It’s OK for them to find out by word of mouth,” said Bodgas. “And they will.”
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