If you're like most Tech Ladies, you love tackling the interesting challenges that come with a tech job. But, when it comes to letting your boss know about a pregnancy... well, that's a less fun challenge.
For some, it can be a time of celebration with their team. For others, it can feel like navigating a maze with no clear path. How will your boss take it? Will your team be stuck taking on extra work? What kind of role will you come back to?
It's enough to make your head spin!
We watch our members navigate discussions like these all the time. It's often hard to know where to start in broaching the conversation, and planning for a leave and return to work. We hope these resources and advice help you get started—and remind you that you deserve nothing but support and enthusiasm during this time!
Job searching while pregnant
Your pregnancy shouldn't be a factor in any interview process but, unfortunately, both conscious and unconscious bias can be a factor in decisions. For this reason, many Tech Ladies wait to tell their new employers until after they've started a new job.
Tech Ladies member Natalie Galligan is expecting soon and felt very lucky to have accepted an offer with Tech Ladies hiring partner Project Ronin when she was already several months pregnant. She waited to tell them until after accepting her offer, but felt confident in doing so. She had learned a lot about the type of company they are during the interview process and was confident that they would be supportive.
On the other hand, another Tech Ladies member had a very different experience. When she shared news of her pregnancy after signing her offer with a different company, she first got a supportive response. But, since she’s started in the role, she’s faced complaints and comments from her supervisor about her pregnancy, leaving her feeling unsupported and even retaliated against.
While it can sound strange to say, Natalie advises that we have to remember that pregnancy is normal. In other words, it is something you are fully entitled to at any time and you should never be discriminated against for it. Instead, you - and everyone - should expect inclusivity and support at all stages of their professional and personal lives.
Knowing Your Rights
It’s important to know your rights as a pregnant person. This can help you protect your interests and prepare you for conversations around your work.
In the United States, several federal laws, such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are in place to protect pregnant workers from discrimination and provide essential benefits during parental leave. It’s worth reviewing these and any regulations from your specific state before you let your employer know that you are expecting. We hope you won't need to lean on the letter of the law, but it's good to be prepared nonetheless!
If your team has a robust handbook or wiki, we also recommend referencing these ahead of your conversation. Knowing what the company offers as a matter of course (how much paid and unpaid leave, flexible arrangements for returning to work, etc.) can help you think through what might be most helpful for you.
Choosing the Right Time - for You
The pressure to prove oneself in the competitive tech landscape, coupled with the fear of potential biases like this, forces many people to hide their pregnancies until they land a role or reach a certain milestone at work. But you should never have to consider timing when it comes to pregnancy.
You don’t have to wait for an “ideal” time to tell your boss about your pregnancy. You should share your news when you feel comfortable doing so.
When you decide the time is right for you, think about sharing your news during a moment when both you and your supervisor can have an uninterrupted, private conversation. This could be your regular 1:1, or you can schedule a separate time for this news if you feel that will give you the time and space you need.
Natalie chose to tell her supervisor during their 1:1 in her second week at her job. She felt that gave him and the team time to know her as a person and a team member before she shared this personal information.
By contrast, the other Tech Ladies member we interviewed said, “I didn't want to miss an opportunity due to discrimination. However, having lived through the retaliation while pregnant, I do wish I had just told them during the interview process and allowed them to not make an offer if that was their choice.”
While refusing or withdrawing an offer because of pregnancy is discrimination, there are times where that can unfortunately be hard to prove. Companies can sometimes provide an alternate reason for selecting another candidate, and then you have to decide whether to go through the trouble of proving discrimination at a time when you are already planning for a new child and navigating a job search.
We hope that we'll eventually live in a world where no one has to face this decision but, until then, we support you in making the right decision for you. Whether that's telling them during the interview process, or waiting until after you've started. The only "right" answer is what feels right to you.
Planning for Support
After you've shared your news (hopefully to lots of excitement and support!), you can shift the conversation to the kind of support you will need during and after your pregnancy.
You’ll need to discuss the amount of parental leave you will take, and the timing of that leave. Many companies offer paid parental leave for a set number of weeks, and then additional weeks unpaid or at partial salary.
Some states, including New York and California, require companies to provide employees with short-term disability insurance. This insurance can sometimes help subsidize any unpaid leave you may plan to take, especially if you experience complications. If you are facing extended time off unpaid, this can be worth looking into.
Additionally, if you have a partner, consider when and how much leave they will take. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows qualifying employees to take leave within a year of the child's birth and doesn't require that it be taken all at once. This can provide you and your family with an additional level of flexibility. For example, you and your partner may choose to take some time off together and then stagger any remaining time off.
Your supervisor and teammates should work with you to create a plan for covering your work while you are on leave. And, if needed, you can do your part to make sure your work is well-documented, suggest ways your tasks could be handled while you’re out, and let colleagues and customers know about your leave and who to be in touch with during it.
If your company doesn’t already have a policy around communication during leave, you should talk with your supervisor about it before you go on leave. This means setting boundaries around whether you’ll be reachable and, if so, under what circumstances.
Plus, you should set expectations for when and how discussions around your return will start. It's fair to provide your employer with an estimated date, but also ask that you check in at a certain point to confirm the date.
You should also go through what your work situation will look like when you return. Many employers will allow returning workers to ease back into work with part-time or flexible arrangements. These often make it possible for employees to return to work sooner (even if it's part-time) and that's beneficial to the company - so don't be afraid to ask for needed flexibility!
While you can draft a plan for this before you go on leave, we also recommend discussing the possibility that the plan will need to be updated or adapted once you are actually back on the job.
If possible, talk with your supervisor about adjusting your responsibilities or even distributing your work differently across the team when you return. You might also want to ask about training or professional development you can get upon your return so that you can be on top of any changes that happened while you were on leave.
Telling your boss about your pregnancy can feel like a challenge, whether big or small. Hopefully these practical ways to plan the discussion and plan your leave, along with the experiences of Tech Ladies who’ve gone through it, will help you feel prepared and excited to share at work about your pregnancy and get the professional support you need.