Working from a home office and only interacting with colleagues via video calls allows pregnant … [+]
I’m eight months pregnant and most of the people I work with have no idea. This isn’t how I expected my pregnancy to go. Yet, it’s been one of the surprising silver linings of being pregnant during a global pandemic. Due to the coronavirus-mandated quarantine in the Bay Area, everyone I’ve interacted with since March only sees me on video from the chest up, giving no clues that I’m expecting a baby soon. Over the past few months, I’ve inadvertently run a self-experiment on what workplace culture would be like if pregnant women weren’t treated differently.
I’ve always secretly dreaded being pregnant. I didn’t worry about pregnancy symptoms – weight gain, nausea, exhaustion, dizziness, etc – those I can handle. Instead, my dread has always come from the fear of being perceived as being less capable.
As a thirty-two year old female Founder & CEO, I’ve fought my entire life to prove that I am capable. Capable of leading a team, capable of fundraising millions of dollars, and capable of building a successful business selling moringa, a superfood most Americans still haven’t heard of. As the main face of my company Kuli Kuli, a big part of my business success depends on the outside world believing in my credibility as a CEO. I knew that a growing bump in my stomach would tell the world a very different story about my abilities. Specifically, I was worried about five challenges that pregnant women in business frequently face:
People Question Your Brainpower
Despite ample medical evidence to the contrary, the concept of “pregnancy brain” is widespread. The idea can be funny – I’ve certainly used it to convince my husband to take on chores that I have “forgotten.” But the prospect became terrifying if suddenly I was perceived as being less capable of making key business decisions. When no one knows you’re pregnant, no one jokes about your cognitive abilities being impaired.
Unsolicited Advice Overtakes Business Conversations
A pregnant friend of mine went into an important sales meeting with a carefully prepared deck and agenda, knowing that she only had thirty minutes to close the deal. Instead, the buyer insisted on talking about his grandchildren for the entire meeting, offering her unsolicited advice and not even bothering to flip through the deck until the last five minutes. Unsurprisingly, the buyer didn’t end up bringing her products into his store.
Your Childcare Plans Become Fodder for Public Debate
Recently, before telling my investors and board members that I was pregnant, I sought advice from fellow female founders. Their number one piece of advice was as unanimous as it was shocking. Every single woman I spoke with told me “you have to clearly explain your childcare plans and emphasize that you’ll be coming back to work after your maternity leave.” The assumption that female founders would suddenly give up the companies that they’ve poured years of their lives into made me furious.
People Put Your Pregnancy On Stage Instead of You
In my pre-quarantine life, I averaged 29 speaking engagements a year. Many of these speaking opportunities have since turned into webinars. A few days ago, during a prep call for a webinar, I told the moderator I was pregnant when he asked if I had kids. He congratulated me, and asked if I wanted to talk about it during the webinar. I declined and he promised not to put me on the spot. In the last two minutes of the webinar he broke his promise entirely, asking an awkward question that forced me to announce my pregnancy and diverted attention entirely from the professional conversation we’d been having.
You Get Touched Without Your Consent
Though it shocked me to hear it, multiple friends have told me that they’ve had their pregnant bellies awkwardly touched at the grocery store, on the sidewalk, and even at work. Though I hate being six feet apart from everyone I love, I appreciate that no one touches me without my consent. From tummy touches to critical interruptions in business conversations and assumptions of cognitive impairments, it’s clear to me that it can be challenging to be a pregnant woman in business.
This article is the first time I’ve publicly announced my pregnancy. Most pregnant women don’t have the luxury of deciding when to announce their pregnancies – nature announces it for them. Quarantine life has given me unexpected insight into how much easier work would be if pregnant women were treated as capable and professional as any other women. Getting ready to have a baby is such an exciting time but it has its share of challenges. We could make work easier for all women by letting them decide how and if they want to bring their personal lives to work.