Women and Their Managers Struggle with the “Big News”

Suz O’Donnell

Women are having children later in their careers and therefore have more responsibility on their plates when they start a family.  For those that want to maintain a fruitful career, they need to do a little extra work to make sure everyone at work (including their boss, employees, customers, and peers) know they are coming back as strong as ever.  

While every good manager puts on a happy face and genuinely congratulates the woman on her big news, they also secretly struggle with concerns about whether she will return after having the baby, if she’ll want to go part time, how this will impact team performance, and whether they need to begin recruiting now to backfill part or all of her work.  These are real concerns that affect team engagement, effectiveness, and morale.   

To help both the women planning families and the managers of these women cope better with these situations, check out these resources:  

  • Women planning families:  If you are planning a family and want to make sure your career trajectory stays on track, you should apply the advice in The Career-Family Formula™:  Three Steps Female Leaders Must Take When Planning a Family.  In this eBook, Suz O’Donnell, President and Lead Coach of Thrivatize LLC, shares tangible advice for ensuring everyone around you knows you are coming back to work after you have your baby and that you want to maintain an amazing career while your family grows.  She also offers additional resources on her website PowerfulWomenPlanningFamilies.com.  
  • Managers, Human Resources, and Diversity Officers:  Even in the most supportive environments, unconscious bias can make a pregnant woman feel like her career trajectory is at risk.  The more you can do to prevent these feelings, the more likely she is to come back feeling that you support her ongoing career development and success.  Check out Suz Graf O’Donnell, President and Lead Coach of Thrivatize LLC’s whitepaper The Overlooked Opportunity To Retain More Women In Leadership.  This whitepaper includes an engaging story of what can go wrong when well-meaning managers aren’t certain about the career desires of their employees who are planning a family.  It also highlights team performance risks and costs savings that you can address by properly preparing your female leaders for this big change in their lives.  You can find additional resources or contact information regarding this hot topic at PowerfulWomenPlanningFamilies.com.  

   

Maternity Leave Well Wishes

Here’s you dilemma.  Your co-worker is expecting and now you’re expected to write a nice note along with your baby shower gift.  You know it’s not appropriate to write on the card, “You look like you’ve gained 70 lbs so we hope you’re really having a baby!”  so what do you write instead?  Here’s a handy-dandy list of appropriate well wishes for someone about to go on maternity leave.  These could also work for a father celebrating a new arrival or congratulations to new adoptive parents.  Use these for inspiration and “make it your own” to be sure it sounds like something you would say.

  • Blessings to you and your family during this precious time. Can’t wait to meet the sweet new addition.
  • We will miss you while you’re home with your beautiful bundle of joy.  We’ll be sure to not leave a bundle of work for you when you return!
  • God bless all of you….enjoy this sacred time! Can’t wait to see pictures of the newest family member!
  • Our very best wishes for a healthy and happy baby!
  • Good luck on your maternity leave.  Can’t wait to meet your “new boss”!
  • Wishing you well on your maternity leave. We’ll miss you!
  • Our thoughts will be with you for a happy and healthy baby.  Take your time to rest and enjoy your little one.
  • We will surely miss you while you’re home with baby.  When you come back to work, we’ll be sure not to ask you to change any diapers!

In general it’s absolutely appropriate to wish the mom-to-be a healthy delivery and baby.  If you’re wishing them well there aren’t too many things you can say that are wrong.

However there are two areas you’ll want to steer clear of…You will want to avoid joking that you think her/his time off is going to be easy.  I’ve heard some co-workers say, “I’d sure like six weeks of time away from work!”  New parents are signing up for sleepless nights, endless diaper changes and a whole lot of stress – many times at reduced or no pay!  Even if you’re not cut out to be a parent hopefully you can appreciate and respect their decision to bring a life into the world.

You will also want to avoid advice or sensitive questions about how they will give birth or parent the child.  Childbirth and parenting are very personal subjects that are usually best avoided in the workplace.  The new parent will initiate with you if they are seeking advice.  Otherwise they usually just want you to tell them their baby is going to be the cutest in the world.

Hopefully these tips will help you send off the new mom to a wonderfully rewarding maternity leave.  New parents will appreciate your well wishes and encouragement during this exciting time in their lives.

P.S.  Another great gift…. tell them about this blog (but not that you found your heartfelt sentiment here!)

Negotiate for a Better Maternity Leave

IMaternity-Leave-Proposalt’s no secret that maternity leave benefits in the US are lacking.  You know it’s bad when our own President fronts us out.  To quote him directly, “the United States is the only developed country in the world without paid maternity leave.”  But, we can’t let that get us down because bringing a child into this world is one of, it not THE most rewarding and important thing we can do to in our lifetimes.

The good news is that even when you think the deck is stacked against you and you’re concerned that you won’t get a fair shake when you ask for maternity leave, there are experts out there who have successfully helped women to not only get a fair maternity leave but also a great maternity leave.  Today I would like to introduce you to an expert in this area, Pat Katepoo.

Pat has been a work options advisor since 1993 and her website Work Options has been online since 1997. Thousands of busy professionals have found answers and relief through her services.  Pat says, “Women aren’t socialized to negotiate and so they are less inclined than men to ask for what they need or want. And research shows that often women fail to see their options or even think to ask for them.   So maybe you don’t know what you don’t know.”  Pat can help you see your options and ask for them.

Whether you choose her do-it-yourself guides or her personal services by phone you get practical help negotiating various work options to make your life calmer and easier. Options such as job flexibility, a fabulous pay raise, and more maternity leave and other time off.

Please take a few moments right now to visit Pat at WorkOptions by clicking any of the links in this post.  I really think she’s the best in this subject area and definitely the most experienced.  I always keep a link to her site on the side of my blog posts because I think her services are so valuable to working women.  I’m an affiliate for Pat’s tools and resources so each purchase you make drops a few coins in the bucket to fund The Maternity Leave Coach, so “thank you” in advance.

 

Job Searching While Pregnant

I had a question come in a few weeks ago and it prompts a good discussion about whether or not you should apply for new roles when you are pregnant. “Will they offer me the job if they know I am pregnant?” was the question posed. I offered up the very gray answer of “It depends.”

So “it depends” is based on several different factors which I’ll outline below.

#1 Are they Neanderthals who aren’t very interested in following the law?

If so, anticipate that if you have a visible baby bump you will probably get turned down. If you are not yet showing this puts you in the seat of whether or not you will disclose that you are expecting. We’ll cover how to handle that scenario a little later.

Regardless, if you already know that they are Neanderthals and you have other options to pursue – DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME. Why would you want to work for a bad company/boss anyway if you have a choice to go elsewhere??

Read moreJob Searching While Pregnant

The Evils of Extended Maternity Leave

I just read an article by Kay Hymowitz on Time.com about how extended maternity leave may put women at a disadvantage in the workplace.  I’m not mad at Ms. Hymowitz because she’s just reporting the facts but I am left with a little bit of a “meh, I could have told you that” reaction.

Do I wish that an employee – male or female – could take a year off of work without having the negative side effects mentioned in the article?  We’ll yes, it’d be great if I was gone for the next twelve months and my skills didn’t get rusty, my social networks stayed fresh, I’d be able to come back with the same or higher pay and that my longer term career potential wasn’t affected.  But I believe it’s a little unrealistic to think that one or more of those wouldn’t be affected by my choice to exit the workplace for a while.

Let’s flip the script a bit.  Let’s say Joe in the cubicle next to you made a decision to serve in the military.  His time away from work to serve his country is protected by law.  Would you expect him to be sent on required training for a year and then think he’d come right back to work without missing a beat?  Might he have forgotten a bit about the company’s complex accounting system, could the advocates he had previously in the organization moved on without him, could that affect his rate of pay increases for the next few years while he caught up?  It’s highly likely one or more of these things would happen.  Even though that stinks, we’d support him through this transition back to the workplace and respect his service to our country.

I believe that sustaining the human race through pro-creation is also a noble cause.  And here’s the upside that I think we forget.  Why did I take the time off in the first place?  TO HAVE A BABY!  That trumps a few bucks more an hour, don’t you think?

I’m afraid that people (ok, specifically business leaders and policymakers) in the U.S. read about extended leaves in other parts of the world and say “See, our twelve week maternity leave policies are better than other countries because we get a woman back to work sooner, therefore improving her chances of getting back on the career track more quickly.”  Uh, ok.  Lame.

So, all that to say, I will still advocate for improvements in maternity leave offerings around the world and I hope you join with me in that work.  Check out my other blog posts that show just how far behind we are in the U.S. in regard to our offer for working mothers-to-be.  Then write a letter or change a diaper.

Elephant in the Maternity Ward

Ok, I’m just going to have to blog about it.  Everyone else is making a big hub-bub and since I think I am the only blogger in the US blogging about maternity leave,  it would be really weird for me not to take this opportunity to say something.  It’s like the elephant in the maternity ward.

What is the IT I’m talking about?  We’ll, the IT, I mean, SHE is Marissa Mayer, the new Yahoo CEO.   Her quote heard ’round the world goes a little something like this.

“My maternity leave will be a few weeks long, and I’ll work throughout it.”

Read moreElephant in the Maternity Ward

Why Women Don’t Return After Maternity Leave

Helen Letchfieldco-founder of Parenting for Professionals Ltd in the UK, which enables companies to support new and existing parents at work through coaching,  wrote a great article at TrainingJournal.com  about the reasons why women leave the workforce after maternity leave.   Here’s a bit of what Helen had to say:

Returning to work after maternity leave is one of the biggest changes a female employee will ever have to make.  Yet in many organisations, this life-changing event remains unsupported.  Very typically, women returners struggle in silence, not wanting to appear ‘needy’ by asking for help.

Read moreWhy Women Don’t Return After Maternity Leave

The Four Rules of Maternity Leave

Julie Steinberg wrote a nice article that encapsulated the four rules you need to remember about your maternity leave.  I’ve linked to the article at the end of this post.  I wanted to expand a bit on her rules and ask you all if you’d add any more rules to the list.

1.  Start the conversation early

I was glad to see that the women Julie referred to in the article recommended letting managers know sooner than later.   The 12 week mark seems to be a good time to let people know.  You’d want to share the news sooner if you are having an especially tough time with morning sickness or you are high risk and may need accommodations during your pregnancy.  

Read moreThe Four Rules of Maternity Leave

When Work and Family Collide – Missing the Big School Event

I really love Fast Company magazine and I was perusing their site the other day and stumbled upon this oldie but goodie.  Funny to think that 2007 is an oldie but in our world it’s so five years ago! But the concept of the article was timeless.  Here’s the scenario:  Cali Williams Yost, the author and well known expert on worklife issues, had been invited to a national gathering of flexibility experts.  Sounds awesome right?  Just the group to affect change in the world!

Read moreWhen Work and Family Collide – Missing the Big School Event

Plan the Work and Work the Plan – Maternity Leave Planning

So what’s your plan?  If you answer stops at “have a baby” then you’ve got a little bit of thinkin’ to do!  As mind-consuming and stressful as it is for parents-to-be to consider how in the heck they’re going to care for this precious little one, considerations about work can fall to the wayside.  If you’re currently employed and soon to be taking maternity leave, you should know that as happy as your boss and co-workers may be for you, they’re also concerned about how all the work is going to get done.

Read morePlan the Work and Work the Plan – Maternity Leave Planning

My Day As a Stay At Home Mom…Fail

Last week my son was sick so I stayed home from work with him.  I had such grand visions of all the things that I would accomplish on my day as a stay at home mom.

I have always fancied that if I stayed at home my house would be so clean and I’d be so fit and cute all the time.  Maybe I’d wear a little black track suit to go pick my son up from school (with Starbucks in hand) after my book club at Barnes and Noble.   I’d also work on volunteering at the school and Fridays would be the day I ran copies for teachers in the workroom.  On those days I’d wear skinny jeans and a hip scarf with some jewelry I got from my neighbor who sells Silpada.  Scary how detailed the fantasy was.

Read moreMy Day As a Stay At Home Mom…Fail

I Gotta Have Faith – Working Your Real Hours

In my workplace I am an oddity.  Here’s a few reasons why:

  1. I’m just odd.  As a creative, outgoing person I am outside the norm of my introverted engineery co-workers.
  2. I’m female.  Probably 85% – 90% of the workforce in my organization of 5,000+ is male.
  3. I work a reduced work schedule at a reduced salary.  (Insert sound of a co-worker spitting out their coffee at the horror of this thought)

    Read moreI Gotta Have Faith – Working Your Real Hours

It’s Not All About the Money, Right? Moms earn up to 14 percent less than women who don’t have children

Usually my radio is tuned to NPR and I listen to it every day during my commute to and from work.  I really enjoy it and there are some days where I just sit in the parking lot at work while I’m getting all teared up over a Story Corps story.  Contrast that with the fact that the most played song on my iPod is “Peter Piper” by Run DMC and you’ll understand a little more about what makes me tick.

Anywho… I didn’t get to hear this interview live but I ran across it on the web.  The Wage Gap Between Moms, Other Working Women : NPR.  In this interview host Michel Martin discusses the gap between working mothers and other working women with University of New Mexico  economist Kate Krause; Dina Bakst of A Better Balance, a workplace rights organization; and Dawn Porter, founder of Trilogy Films and a mother of two.

Read moreIt’s Not All About the Money, Right? Moms earn up to 14 percent less than women who don’t have children

Maternity Leave Book Club – Good Reads Before You Return to Work

If only I were Oprah I could really make a Maternity Leave Book Club happen.  Actually, if I were Oprah I wouldn’t waste time with a book club.  I’d pay people to write books about me and then have William Shatner read them back to me while trained pandas massage my feet.  (Jealousy is a form of flattery right?  I got no beef with Oprah).

Read moreMaternity Leave Book Club – Good Reads Before You Return to Work