Learning you’re pregnant is exciting. Telling your boss about it is not. For a working mom-to-be, this inevitable discussion can become equally as anxiety inducing as the baby itself. But talking about your pregnancy at work—not just with your boss, but with your whole team, and in fact, your whole office—can set the stage for your life as a working mom. So start talking.
To help frame your discussions, we turned to Allyson Downey, founder of Weespring and author of HERE'S THE PLAN: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood. With more than 50 interviews with working moms to draw from, Allyson’s created the ultimate tomb to help career gals navigate the world of office politics during pregnancy and postpartum.
Starting, she says, with the dreaded pregnancy reveal to your boss. On the bright side, her interviews revealed that while 77% of women were worried about the conversation, only 3% of them actually went badly (sorry, ladies). Nonetheless, here are Allyson’s practical tips on how to ace that discussion, and others you’ll be having around your office when you’re pregnant.
Share your news with only the most trusted confidants before your boss.
If your direct manager isn't the first person you tell (you may want to talk to your Human Resources (HR) first, or you talk to a colleague to get advice), be crystal clear that they're not say a word to anyone else. If you do talk to Human Resources, let them know you want to be the one to break it to your boss. And if it’s a friend, find a trustworthy one.
Make it a relative non-event with your boss.
When you're ready to tell your boss, include it as an agenda item on a regular check in, rather than requesting a separate meeting. You're signaling: this is no big deal, and I'm focused on business as usual. When you’re feeling nervous about talking to your boss, you might convey that your pregnancy is a bigger deal than you’d like it to be, and may even end up making apologies for it. Instead, set the tone that you’re the same, reliable employee, and let your boss know you’ll discuss specifics at a later meeting.
Reassure your colleagues.
Know that your colleagues are the ones most likely to cover your work in your absence (not your boss), so be sensitive (and gracious) about your maternity leave placing a burden on them. Be proactive and put together an extensive document that explains what you have going on. Express your gratitude often and go out of your way to make it easy for them to help you out. And when you return, buy your colleagues a pizza or write them a thank-you note! Do something to thank your colleagues for carrying out your work while you were out.
Don’t let your pregnancy become fodder for small talk in the office.
Replacing, "I can't believe it is still raining!" with "I got no sleep last night!" can hurt your credibility, because your colleagues may internalize that being a mother is exhausting/stressful/consuming for you. While you may be tempted to talk with passion and excitement about your baby shower or nursery decor, don’t let people misconstrue that it’s all you’re thinking about. Be mindful that you’re talking about your work with the same level of passion and excitement.
Acknowledge the things left unsaid.
Remember that everyone makes assumptions about what mothers (and soon-to-be mothers) want and need. They're often incorrect. Be especially proactive about speaking up for what you want, whether it's flexibility to work remotely or the opportunity to take on a demanding new project.
Once the news settles in, work out the fine details with your boss.
For this second, more in-depth discussion of your maternity leave, err on the side of over-preparedness. Even if you don’t have all the answers, make sure you have all the questions. Come up with a comprehensive list of what needs to be handled while you’re out, a timeline and considerations that could arise. When it comes to your own maternity leave and return benefits, consider what's negotiable -- and then advocate for what you care about. Even if your company has a hard and fast (and maybe crappy) parental leave policy, there's almost always something on the table that gives one party a win without costing the other party anything.