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How to Tell Your Boss You’re Pregnant When You Work in the Tech Industry

There was no hiding it. I was really, REALLY pregnant!

I’ve never been able to bake. My husband will vouch for me, I’m horrible. The only flour I can work with is the kind you put in a vase. So you can imagine my excitement when, despite a gluten intolerance, I found out I had a bun in the oven.

A baby! We found out right before Christmas, and I couldn’t have asked for a better surprise for family — but what about work? . As luck would have it, I was able to pass off most of my early pregnancy symptoms as the flu that was circulating through the office. As my morning sickness ramped up I knew I would have to let my manager (who was a man) in on the situation.

GULP. Suddenly I started to feel anxious about one of the biggest milestones of my life!

I’m a Product Designer for a large EdTech company. I love my job, the people I work with and the projects I work on. When I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, I had become aware of some of the challenges women can face when they start a family. I didn’t want to lose what I had and the momentum I was gaining. Most importantly, I didn’t want to feel like I had to choose between my career and my family.

For days I strategized how I would break the news. When I finally worked up my nerve I was shocked by the response…total excitement and genuine support! I was lucky enough to have a fantastic manager to start, but here’s how I laid out the news to position myself strategically.

Know Your Rights

The Discrimination Act of Canada provides “protection from discrimination based on parenthood, under the ground of “family status.” Family status rights cover issues such as parental or maternity leave, adoption leave and childcare related needs; these may apply to both new mothers and fathers.” Put simply, unfair treatment because you are pregnant or raising a baby is illegal in Canada. While Parental leave is getting to be better known and accepted, know that you also have the right to Pregnancy leave if necessary. Here are the key Parental leave rights:

  • The right to reinstatement
  • The right to be free from penalty
  • The right to continue to participate in benefit plans
  • The Right to Earn Credits for Length of Employment, Length of Service and Seniority

For more details click here — https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/es/pubs/guide/pregnancy.php

I knew I had rights, but I didn’t know the specifics. Having these in my back pocket gave me a legislative backbone. I could embrace my pregnancy without feeling I could become a victim.

Having these in my back pocket gave me a legislative backbone.

Know Your Company’s Maternity Leave Policy

Unfortunately, it’s up to each company to define the extent of their Maternity Leave Policy. Familiarize yourself with your company’s policy and be prepared to ask for any clarification. The extent of additional support can vary from nothing to some of the following:

  • Top-up support — Additional compensation in addition to Employment Insurance for a specific length of time.
  • Vacation payout — Payout for any unused vacation days.
  • Return to work vacation balance — Returning to work with a number of pre-earned vacation days.
  • Extra emergency days — Additional emergency days to deal with child related needs.
  • Work related tools — Access to work computer, devices, pass-card, etc while on leave.
  • Flex-time — Working on a flexible schedule to accommodate daycare and appointments.
  • Working from home — Ability to work remotely to balance work and family life.

Through my pregnancy I developed a genuine relationship with HR. They clarified any questions that I had and we’re open to other supportive measures.

At a time when I didn’t always feel stable, it was nice to have a level headed individual to confide in.

Timing Is Everything

Sharing the news of your pregnancy is a personal decision. Some women prefer to wait until the 2nd trimester when the risk of miscarriage is greatly reduced. If your morning sickness becomes a challenge (like mine was), it is worth considering if you feel you can confide in your boss with the news but ask them to keep it private until later in your pregnancy.

One other consideration is whether or not you will be receiving a performance review in the near future.

While the news might not impact your review, it can be beneficial to wait as some women question if their opportunity for advancement in pay and position are jeopardized.

Tell Your Boss First

Telling your boss first can be difficult if you find yourself closer with other co-workers, but your boss should ideally be the first person to know. You really need this person working as your Champion. Again, this is a personal decision, but you run the risk of the news circulating through the grapevine otherwise.

My manager had two kids, so I knew I could position my pregnancy from a perspective that he would understand. I asked him what his experience was like when they had their first baby and it brought up empathy towards my situation. I am so grateful for all the support he offered me over the following 7 months.

You really need this person working as your Champion.

Consider How Much Time You’ll Take Off

In Canada we are fortunate to have up to a year for Parental leave and the option to split the time with your partner. Having an idea of how long you plan to take off can help to frame your return.

My husband and I ultimately settled on me taking the full year off, but it without concern. I had been building my career with strong momentum, and I wasn’t interested in losing it, let alone falling behind. One of my closest co-workers was having their second baby just a few months before me, but as our children would grow up, he’d have a year advantage of development and learning over me.

I wanted becoming a mom to make me stronger, not set me back.

Sweetly, my husband was open to taking the Parental leave, but because we had decided that we we’re only have one baby, I wanted to cherish the year together. In the end I acknowledged that I work in a career that is ever growing and the best thing I could do is see the silver lining of opportunities to learn. Having the time off meant being able to work on (during naps of course) my portfolio, write and work on my own projects. I look forward to my return to celebrate my co-workers growth and learn from their experience.

Be Professional & Positive

You might find you’re experiencing a lot of emotions, I know I did. My mind would flip-flop from excitement to terror, confidence to self doubt. I had to remember that I was a professional and to keep myself composed. More importantly, I had to give myself permission to be excited about my baby. My mother gave me the best advice:

“If you are excited about the baby, others will be too”.

Be professionally positive and people will reflect that same positive professionalism back to you.

I shared the news with my team by sending out an email with a little cartoon cake baking in the oven and the caption “Can you guess what I’m baking for August?” The Slack channel immediately gushed with guesses and excitement. Since I expressed sincere joy it was reflected back to me. I also found humorous ways to downplay the crappiness of some of my pregnancy symptoms, like having a family size bottle of mouthwash on my desk that I offered to anyone wanting to freshen up for a meeting or in my case — dealing with morning sickness.

What Do You Need to Be Successful

Showing commitment to doing your job to the best of your ability while pregnant goes a long way. Consider your roles and responsibilities and what you might need to continue to do them effectively. This might mean asking to work from home on occasion, doing walk & talk meetings, or virtual stand-ups.

Being proactive reinforces your commitment to your job and proves your competency in challenging situations.

I was very, very pregnant over the hot summer months and appreciated the option to do walking meetings. Pretty much any opportunity to move around I would take, and if I couldn’t be walking I would schedule meetings in rooms on a different floor so I could get a bit of blood flow to my legs before I had to sit for a while.

Show Interest in Upcoming Projects

One concern I had once I had finalized my last day before taking mat leave was that I wouldn’t be privy to projects ramping up around that time. Realistically, projects that extend beyond your maternity leave won’t just fall into your lap (especially with that belly), but that shouldn’t deter you from showing genuine interest.

Find ways to support the work and participate without becoming a key dependency.

Babies have their own schedule, and it might not be inline with your last day of work.

Some major projects started a month before I took my leave. I made a point to grab coffee with the project leaders to gain insight and see if there were small ways I could help out.

In the End

After sharing the big news I continued my role as usual with the support of my manager, dev teams and design group. In fact, I took on more ambitious projects because I was so passionate about the work I was doing and I can’t wait to go back.

If you find yourself pregnant or know someone that is, I hope these tips are helpful and you’re able to be proud of the wonderful journey a baby brings you (after the morning sickness…)!

How did you tell you or your partner share the news? What was the reaction? I’d love to hear your stories! Connect with me on Twitter.

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