January 29, 2020

There is a notion that today’s women are thriving while building a career, bearing children, and rearing a family. While it’s inspiring to believe that expectations have evolved enough to encourage women to do it all if they choose, the truth is that it’s not so easy. In fact, it’s downright scary for women who fear a pregnancy could mean the end of their career. Or worse, choosing their career could mean the end of their pregnancy.

CBS News Sunday Morning recently aired a feature “Fighting for overdue protections for pregnant workers” which covered the challenges these women are confronted with. Although the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978) protects women from being fired during a pregnancy or discriminated against during hiring, there are few requirements for temporary accommodations.

CBS cites specific examples of women who suffered because their employers refused to make short-term accommodations during their pregnancies, forcing pregnant workers to make tough financial choices. They cited one woman whose pregnancy ended in stillbirth.

Frustrating at best; tragic at worst.

Even in the most accommodating of environments, pregnant women still face perceptions of incapability. This fear leads them to hide their pregnancies as long as possible. Greta Gerwig, director of Little Women, kept her pregnancy secret during filming so it wouldn’t become a distraction or considered a detraction from her work. Clearly it wasn’t, considering her Oscar nomination. A friend shared that she hid her pregnancy during her time with a government intelligence agency to ensure she got her desired next career opportunity. She even mentioned that she had no photos of her children on her desk, simply to guarantee her colleagues would not question her commitment.  What is it about more bathroom breaks or temporary desk duty that seems unreasonable? Or creates a bias against moms?

In order to expect candor from women about pregnancy, and to safeguard the moms and our newest humans entering our world, we must first remove barriers in accommodating the very temporary physical state of pregnancy. And really admire, rather than diminish, the value of employees who choose both the workplace and parenthood. Honest, respectful conversation about expectations will help both leader and employee navigate this short-term window. It’s past time.