Have you experienced discrimination for being pregnant or a mother at work? If not, it might surprise you to hear that despite the laws in place to protect women against such acts, it’s more common than you might imagine.
A report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission found that three-quarters of pregnant women and new mothers have experienced prejudice, with one in nine women losing their jobs as a result. What’s more, only one in four women affected raised it with their employer, mainly because of the high cost of taking a case to a tribunal.
For the virtuous woman with a wedding band on her finger, sharing early pregnancy news might be their biggest joy but it’s quite different for a 24-year-old who is unwed and has just landed her first job and still depends on her parents for rent bills. Well to my defense, I fell in love really hard and I did not recognize that to be pregnant was a very visible indication of a private act and for some reason provided people with more reason to form opinions.
My parents especially my father are old fashioned and so believe that to have a child you must be wed in church and I always wanted to be the perfect daughter. When this natural fall happened I was terrified to have this dialogue. I did not have the energy or the emotional stamina to get through this. My fear wasn’t the child; it was how I’d be received by others for being pregnant outside of marriage. At 6 weeks, I told my parents and they were devastated to say the least, but got over it in a really short period.
A few weeks later, I got a call from my mother and she said, “Now that you have made a conscious choice to start a family, you need to find the right time to share the pregnancy news with your boss ‘. My parents offer great career advice and so I always shared with them the tiny details of my roles, the organization culture and the super cool Christian boss.
Practically speaking, I didn’t even realize that telling the boss that I was with child was important, considering I did not experience bad morning sickness, nausea or anything that could get in the way of my ability to deliver on my tasks. I was off to the washrooms more often and suffered food aversions but I was able meet my job expectations and did not need any distinct support.
My organization was Christian founded, and being part of the team was such an honor. My faith is a big part of who I am, and It has been from as far back as I can remember. First forward, being pregnant at work was hardly a thought I concerned myself with since I was saving the news for after the wedding and my Super Christian boss would give my employer’s speech.
While at work, I did not want to be treated differently, I still wanted both my boss and colleague’s respect and so I held on, even though I knew that soon the bump would start to show. The team I led and worked with was composed of young software developers who were living their glorious 20s, investing in gadgets and developing amazing software. I can attest to the fact that not even one of them understood antintenal visits, morning sickness or food aversions and at the helm of the organization was my Boss who is an amazing coach and he guided us like a parent.
A study at Cornell in which the researchers sent fake résumés to hundreds of employers found that mothers were half as likely to be called back by prospective employers, while fathers were called back slightly more often than the men whose résumés did not mention parenthood. In short, there’s still a lot of cultural stigma attached to working moms, even in these modern times, and it has to be addressed head on.
Eventually, large blouses and scarves weren’t cutting it anymore, and it was time to have this conversation with the boss. It was a daunting mission and I still remember the deafening silence in the room at the mention of my pregnancy, the blank look on his face and everything in-between. His reactions stemmed from the fact that I had diverted from the core Christian values that he strongly believed in even when they did not impact my work or ability to deliver on tasks. From that day on, our work relationship struggled and it created a toxic environment. Still, I wasn’t sorry or ashamed!
Aware of the fact that in small companies any disruption is a big deal, I still expected respect and support. But even after many years in the corporate world, I realize that employers still have a lot of stereotypes about whether mothers are good workers and those come into play when women are pregnant.
I made a choice on how to define my own happiness, respond to his attitude and still be the best employee he had on the team. I thought about the women who were belittled in their workplaces for being pregnant and worse still pregnant while unwed. The women who felt abortion was a better option than humiliation. The young girls forced into abortion because the family or the Christian mentor couldn’t handle the shame. The women who have watched the same people who groom them at work, avoid them like a plague and it broke my heart.
“Peter did not feel very brave indeed; he felt he was going to be sick. But that made no difference to what he had to do.” C.S. LEWIS
When did pregnancy in the work place, start to raise more eyebrows than bullying, insubordination, performance, theft etc. The men and women in leadership need to strive for diversity and inclusion and work to eliminate any discrimination against any of our employees. Let us respond with respect and support the challenges of a working mother.
Susan recalls with a chill the pain she went through when she has her second baby. “I became pregnant barely a year on my job in a financial institution in Kampala. I was a temporary employee and my appointment letter never mentioned anything to the effect that I was not entitled to maternity leave. I knew this was every woman’s right. But how wrong I was!
“When I took my leave application to the human resources manager, I was told that, as a temporary employee, I was not entitled to leave.
The pervasive existence of such explicit bias has an enormous effect on the anxiety and fear many working women report feeling about pregnancy. These feelings contribute to the shame and stigma that is still largely associated with pregnancy for some women. Now, in particular, it is so important that women are receiving the respect and consideration they deserve professionally. In attaining equality in the workplace, one of the first things that must be addressed is the discriminatory practices related to their reproductive health and status.
I am saying that as leaders, managers and colleagues think again on what you actually judge as acceptable and what you don’t. Your own emotion will shock you.