What Happens If You Work for “Neanderthal Inc.”?

I am so excited to share a special guest post from my husband and biggest supporter.  Take a few minutes to hear his perspective on maternity leave.

For starters, I’m really proud of my wife for doing the Maternity Leave Coach blog and helping get useful topics/hints/suggestions out there that working women can use when they are on the verge of experiencing the most amazing event they will ever experience in their life. My wife asked me to chime in on a guest post, so we chatted about what I’ve experienced in my working life.

For starters, I’ve had a knack in my working life for working around and with companies that could also be labeled as “Neanderthal Inc.”  By that I mean that they are typically male dominated and may have a culture that is gruff and quite frankly doesn’t understand women and how to work with them or develop them so they are vital parts of the organization. Fortunately, my wife has mostly worked for large companies that have had fairly progressive policies when it comes to women and typically would go above any federal minimums when it came to maternity leave and benefits like that. So, it’s safe to say we’ve had different experiences over our almost 20+ years working. We were talking about her blog recently (did I mention I’m proud of her?) and why some women might not want to tell their managers they are pregnant or that they might be nervous about their future when there are laws to protect them. Here are some observations I’ve made over the years.

“Neanderthal Inc.” Attributes:

  • Face time is key. If you are not physically at your desk they think there is no way you can be productive or contribute to the organization.
  • They consider flexible work arrangements (9/80 schedules, variable work hours, working from home, etc.) to be detrimental to their business.
  • Management typically is male (likely over age 50) and they were often absent with their children when they grew up and expect women to stay at home full time and deal with the kids.
  • Women will often be relegated to “traditional women’s roles” kind of like you’re stuck in an episode of Mad Men.
  • Policies on discrimination, harassment and the like are written and trained on but rarely if ever enforced.
  • Employee morale is strictly an afterthought and certainly not a motivation for any of the practices that might come out from HR. They typically only have policies that they are required to do by law or by learning from losing pricey lawsuits.
  • This type of company will usually be small (under 50 employees) but Neanderthals definitely come in all sizes and in all types of industries.
  • Pregnancy may often be considered (by manager actions but certainly not in written policy or even speech) as a “weakness” and just as bad or worse than an employee that has an illness/disease that keeps them out of work for an extended time,
  •  Any requests for time off are met with groans and passive aggressive comments about how you’re letting the company down by being gone and attempts are made to make you feel guilty so you’ll shorten your time away.

So, now what? If you don’t work for a “Neanderthal” company then you may want to consider yourself fortunate. But, if you do work for a “Neanderthal” company, changing jobs is an option but isn’t real easy, especially if you’re pregnant, so what can you do to make your experience leading up to your leave productive and what can you do to make your leave enjoyable with your new baby? Well I wish I had all the answers but alas, I do not. I will offer some hints based on my observations.

  • Do tell you manage as soon as possible in the process. Although this may indeed be the scariest thing you tell your manager, you can package it in a way that will show your dedication to the company. Since you may need to let him/her soak on it a bit, ask to meet again in a few days to go over your ideas of a plan of how to get your tasks/jobs covered while you are out.
    • This means that you cannot be one of those employees who protects their work or thinks that they are the only one (or should be the only one) that can do specific functions or tasks. In other words you have to let go in order to train someone else to cover your most critical tasks. The world, and more specifically your company, will function without you so if I’m the first one to break that to you then so be it.
  • Make your list of ideas to discuss the plan for work coverage while you are away on maternity leave. This should certainly suggest to your manager that you are concerned about the health of the company and want it to thrive while you are out so you can hit the ground running when you get back and not have to catch up on 3 months of past work.
  • Do not agree to regularly check emails. If you are out, you are out for a reason and you’ve waited at least 9 months and likely years for this opportunity so don’t blow it constantly trying to email folks and keep up with tasks at the office. You’re on leave for a reason (but certainly don’t neglect any friends you have at the office who may want to see you and/or your new baby).
  • Pay your office a visit with your new baby (after you feel comfortable taking your new bundle of joy outside the house). This is for a couple reasons. One, you should be proud and want to do this and besides, who can be mean to you when there is a tiny cute baby in your arms? Second, I think it gives you a great chance to chat with some of your colleagues or you manager about how major customers/projects have been doing while folks are standing around and small-talking as they gaze at your perfect baby. This can subconsciously show you’re still interested and concerned and also help you keep up with things a bit so it’s not as hard to come back and get caught up. Or maybe just invite some of your office mates to lunch and then you’ll be able to likely get any of the quick updates necessary to keep you up to speed but still at arm’s length.
  • Take a deep breath. If you’ve been a quality employee prior to pregnancy, your company will almost certainly want to keep you as an employee after your maternity leave. Assuming you are a solid performer and regularly receive good evaluations, then your managers (even if Neanderthals) will want you back. If for some reason your company has been giving you friction or has had issues with your performance prior to your pregnancy, then any friction they may give you upon a pregnancy announcement may not be entirely related to your pending birth and may also be a sign of poor prior performance. Unfortunately, if you’ve not been a solid performer that fact that you’re pregnant isn’t likely to change that. Or you may have had the realization that you and your company are not a good match.
  • If you’ve realized that you and your company are not the best fit for the years to come, perhaps you can use your maternity leave time as a catalyst to find a new position at a new company. Hopefully you’ll have a few free moments (during baby naps, etc.) to update your resume’ and even start to get your name out there for new positions. Since you won’t be at your office during the day, you could call prospective companies or even go on an interview without your current company even knowing.

The tough part is that changing the culture or even the polices at “Neanderthal” companies is very difficult. Changes come with glacial expediency from what I’ve seen and the sad thing is that most often the change has to come when all the “old guard” dies or retires. That’s kind of harsh but I really think it’s the truth. I don’t say that to discourage you from being a change-agent at your company but you may need to be realistic about what you’re up against.

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