Don’t Apologize: How to Own Working Motherhood

Gina Nebesar, Chief Product Officer and co-founder of Ovia Health, recently posted this piece on LinkedIn about working parenthood and supporting mothers at work. Read it below!

Almost 4 million babies are born in the U.S. each year. Being pregnant and having children is something that is natural and normal — yet, somehow there remains a stigma in the workplace. I constantly hear from women that they keep their pregnancies secret at work due to fear of discrimination. But, from working with employers, I have a little-known secret: the very best companies are actually fighting hard to attract and retain female and family talent. Here are five ways you can champion yourself and working mothers in the workplace.

 Don’t apologize for being pregnant!

There are over 500,000 questions and answers posted in the Ovia community every day, and many of them are from women asking for advice on how to handle pregnancy discrimination at work. In Ovia Pregnancy, one woman commented, “My boss cut my hours and acts like I’m incapable of working when I’m only 23 weeks pregnant.” Another said, “It’s crazy. This is my first pregnancy, and I didn’t know stuff like this really happens to pregnant women all the time.”

Your pregnancy is not an inconvenience, and it shouldn’t be considered one by your employer. Today, there are 25.1 million working mothers with children under 18; it’s about time we recognize the contributions working parents are making and normalize pregnancy and parenthood at work.

 Know your rights. 

Pregnant employees in the U.S. are protected by two federal laws: the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Even if you’re not experiencing discrimination, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with these laws.

The PDA protects pregnant women from being fired for their pregnancy and enforces other standards for hiring, training, sick leave use, and workplace accommodations. The ADA requires companies with 15 or more employees to provide work accommodations for employees who have pregnancy-related conditions that affect how they work, such as preeclampsia, depression, gestational diabetes, and/or cervical insufficiency.

 Advocate for yourself and the future of women at work.

It can be costly for an employer to replace a woman who leaves the workforce — your company has invested in you, and wants you to stay. Plus, did you know that companies with more women in their leadership are more successful?

At Ovia Health, I work with some of the biggest employers in the U.S. to help them deliver maternity and family benefits to their employees. I’ve learned that the most successful employers want to better support women and families, and they’re eager to offer actionable benefits like return-to-work coaching, health management, and proactive benefits guidance.

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In publicized the stat that 43% of women leave the workforce after having a child. Recently, Ovia Health published its Motherhood in America report that shed more light on this issue: we found that 34% of women are leaving their jobs once they have a child, but of those women, 11% are actually leaving for a different job — one where they feel more supported. One woman explained, “I was told I was going to get a promotion. Then I told my boss I was pregnant and I haven’t heard anything about the promotion since. I’m thinking of going back part-time, or not at all.” How a company treats its employees during their pregnancy affects how they view their employer in the long term. It also answers the fundamental question: Is this somewhere I can see myself being a working mother?

If you think your employer can and should do more for you and others during pregnancy, start a conversation about it. Chances are, you’re not the only one in your organization thinking about this! If your maternity policy is not meeting today’s modern standards, you’ll be doing your employer a favor by bringing it to the attention of your human resources representative.

 Ask questions, and set expectations, confidently.

Working parenthood can be a confusing thing to navigate, both for first-time parents and for managers who have never supervised a pregnant person before. What is our parental leave policy? What’s my healthcare coverage while I’m out? Answers to these questions should be made easily available — but if they’re not, don’t be afraid to ask.

At Ovia Health, I felt it was important to create a plan for when I was out on my maternity leave. It helped both me and my colleagues know what to expect. Everyone knew when I’d return and who was performing my responsibilities while I was out of the office. I also continued to set expectations when I returned to work. I had new demands, from pumping two times a day to leaving work promptly at 5 p.m. to relieve childcare. Because I had a plan from the start, we were able to seamlessly manage my transition and establish a precedent for future parental leave in the office as our company grew!

Own being a working parent.

I wear my working mom label like a badge of honor and feel that all working parents should be celebrated. Sure, some days I’m a better professional than a mom and vice versa, but I’m the only one that notices. My daughter thinks I’m the funniest person in the world, and my colleagues admire me. Being a working parent can be incredibly hectic, but it’s also incredibly normal. Dual career households are on the rise, and there are millions of families just like mine making it work every day, from 5 a.m. wake-up calls to midnight monster checks — and the entire workday in between.

Our employers should know what we do in order to be successful working parents and support us from the moment we decide to embark on this journey. This starts with employers offering benefits that support women and families before, during, and after the transition to parenthood — from healthcare to daycare — in addition to celebrating every working parent from the moment they decide to become one.

When an employee tells her manager she’s pregnant, the first words (or even thoughts) shouldn’t be, “Oh no,” but rather, “Congratulations! How can I support you?”