Given that at the moment I am expecting my first child, I currently have lots of pregnant friends and I am shocked by the number of things they say about issues faced in the workplace and how they are treated by their employer and colleagues because they are pregnant. Despite equality laws protecting against this kind of thing, pregnancy discrimination is rife in our workplaces.
Stories I have heard include someone finding out from another colleague details of who has been chosen to cover their role while they are on leave; women being treated like they have left already; and assumptions being made about when and on what basis they will be returning.
People in the workplace seem to forget (or not realise) that it’s the 21st Century and women make a wide range of choices these days. For a start, Shared Parental Leave means that Dads can stay at home too and increasingly, men are taking a break from the workplace to do just that. I have of course been asked if I will be giving up work which is laughable in a society of dual income households not to mention the fact that lots of women want a career and don’t believe that having a baby means they have to give this up.
Then you get people assuming you will be returning part-time after the baby is born. Which also isn’t for me (and many others) because I’m likely to do the same work anyway and I want my full pension thank you very much! Naturally, my husband has not been subjected to any of these questions about his own decisions although I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been asked about mine.
It isn’t necessary these days and things really have to change, so what should you be doing if you want to be a good employer for those in the family way?
1) Don’t make assumptions and encourage others not to as well – these days, it is more than possible to raise a family and continue working so no matter how well-meaning you are, do not assume women will take 12 months off, return part-time or seek a less demanding role. Better to assume that they will want to return to the same role at the same capacity and if they want to talk to you about reduced hours or other flexible working arrangements, they will let you know.
2) Ensure those who are preparing to go on any kind of child-related leave are involved in decisions about their role – they might be going on maternity leave but may well return and preferably to the job they left so they will appreciate it if you ask them their views on how to cover the role in their absence. Discuss their plans for maternity leave and see what level of contact they would like to have while they are away. Keep in touch days exist for a reason and some women will want to make sure they are used to the best effect. When decisions have been made, make sure you talk to them and explain what is going to happen and why you have decided to do things that way.
3) Keep in touch – whether they use their keep in touch days or not, make sure they are kept up to speed with any important changes. Is there something big kicking off that might make them worry for their role? Update them on developments so that they can feel confident that they are a valued member of the team.
4) Carry out the risk assessment – it’s mandatory for a reason and women will want to make sure that their employer recognises the risks associated to the role and cares about making sure there are no unfair expectations placed on them that might cause harm to their baby.
5) Treat them with respect – while they’re there, while they’re off and when they come back. Commit to good communication, timely responses or decisions and ensure all discussions are handled with sensitivity. It will be appreciated and they will be more likely to come back.
I’m sure you made the hire in the first place thinking that person was amazing for the role. Hopefully, they have proven you right and performed well during their time with you. If that’s the case, you would want them back, right? Under whatever circumstances they want to return.
So treat them right and you have a good chance that they will want to re-join your fold after they have settled in to their new world order and continue doing the same amazing job they were doing before, probably with even more commitment because they know they are lucky to have a good employer and want to work hard for you.
Does this resonate with you? Have you experiences of being pregnant in the workplace? Or are you an employer that agrees or is frustrated with these ideas? Let us know in the comments below.