When I was interviewed on the television recently about the EHRC’s research on employers attitudes towards hiring women of reproductive age, the statistic that rankled the most was the finding that 36% of employers felt they’d seen a woman ‘take advantage’ via her pregnancy. I’ve spent 20 years advising companies on these issues and 2000 hours executive coaching women; women who share their deepest concerns about parenting, fertility and career planning. I have yet to hear a woman say: ‘Yeah, I’d like to get a new job, preferably with a small company, and then get pregnant – that will show them!’ Instead, let me share the top 3 things I hear in both coaching and presentations such as ‘Pipeline to Promotion’:
1. I’d like to plan another baby, but will wait until this big new project is over as that would’t be fair to the rest of my team….and I want my boss to know how committed I am.
2. I’m just a few weeks pregnant, but fear telling my boss. They’ll do what I see with every other woman here – they’ll take me off my best clients and give them to the new guy down the hall, despite the fact he’s confided to me that his wife is pregnant and he’ll be taking his full paternity leave.
3. I’m struggling to get pregnant now because I waited for (insert one): that big account to close, my new boss to find his feet, until I felt I’d groomed my team well enough, until I’d been promoted – all of which took longer than I anticipated – but team first, right Suzanne?’ 🙂
Interestingly, just because a women may have pregnancy plans doesn’t mean they will happen. The medical journal, The Lancet, showed that only just over half of all pregnancies were actively planned– the rest were unplanned or left the woman feeling ambivalent. So asking women about their ‘plans’ may be a moot point in any case! No doubt there are a few women who to your average boss, appear to be ‘taking advantage’. But I’ve never met them – I’ve only ever met women who agonise over timing, telling colleagues and advancing their careers when surprise, surprise, their bosses may have written them off before they’ve even uttered the initial words: ‘Congratulations!’ to the expectant mother.
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