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Reacting to Pregnancy in the Workplace and What it Means for the Company

Reacting to Pregnancy in the Workplace and What it Means for the Company

With more and more women in the workforce, it’s not hard to find a high-performing and talented woman who easily meets the demands of a business. However, when your female star announces that she is pregnant, anyone of us who has worked in a corporate environment has seen the slow meltdown of a manager. Subtle reactions, such as a blank stare, less-than-enthusiastic congratulatory statement or concerning facial expressions do not go unnoticed to your female talent. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the data on female retention after having her first child is staggering: 41.6% of women worked less than 3 months in the same job prior to giving birth. This dropped to 37.4% at 3-5 months, and finally, a measly 8.4% were working at the same company between 6-11 months postpartum. This means that companies have less than a 10% chance of retaining their female talent once a full year has passed since the baby’s birth. 

[Watch: Balancing Career and Kids: What You Need to Know When Planning to Start a Family]

While these numbers account for any type of reason why women leave their jobs after having their first baby, the data from the CDC states that only 14.8% of women wish to stay at home with their child after the baby turns a year old. If the majority of new mothers prefer to remain in the workforce, then why are they leaving their current employment?

As a professional in this industry, I have counseled and interviewed many high-achieving women who have returned to the workforce after having given birth. While there are many reasons why new mothers might leave their job for another workplace, throughout my experience, I have found a few patterns in their reasoning. One client of mine came to me saying that after she announced her pregnancy to her boss at a large corporate office, he could barely get the words "congratulations" out of his mouth before he asked questions related to how she would handle the workload once the baby was born – which wasn’t for another 6.5 months. After she came back to the desk and told her team, one of her colleague’s muffled, “Oh, you will never come back.” 

Both of these reactions were incredibly disappointing. This woman had put years into establishing a fantastic reputation at her company and now she felt that announcing her pregnancy put her on the list of women “not worth investing in.” One can argue that she overreacted, but a year after the baby was born, she left the firm to work for a competitor.

[Related: Why Pregnancy is a Great Time to Network]

Bestselling author, Louann Brizendine, M.D. said it best in her book The Female Brain: “Women respond to the torn responsibilities of family and their own professional goals with increased stress, anxiety, and even reduced brainpower.” When a woman announces her pregnancy to her manager, she assesses his reaction carefully and draws conclusions as to how much support she will likely get in the subsequent months. Just like a first impression, if his response is negative, she can start to feel overwhelmed. 

Most women that I’ve spoken with have already made up their minds about their future in the company well before delivery. New mothers tend to leave their pre-baby jobs because they believe that their direct manager does not fully support their decision to have a child. While many of my clients certainly argue that a lack of flexibility in the workplace contributes to their departure from the firm, I have found that if a woman feels that the birth of her baby is viewed in any way as an inconvenience, she is less likely to feel a sense of loyalty or obligation to stay with the same firm postpartum. On the other hand, I have found that if a new mother returns to work for the same company she had before delivery and is able to stick it out a full year, she reports greater feelings of stability, happiness and overall satisfaction with work and family.

[Ellevate Insights: By The Numbers: Ellevate Members and Family Leave]

While certain inconveniences for managers do happen, companies have the ability to create an environment where a baby becomes a firm’s celebrated joy. One client of mine demonstrated a perfect example. After this woman announced her pregnancy to her manager, he bought her a beautiful flower arrangement and personally set it on her desk with a card congratulating her on the exciting news. I am not saying that all women can be bought with flowers, but I believe that a simple, yet profound gesture of kindness and compassion can demonstrate a manager’s support. 

This also sets the tone for the rest of the team. Her coworkers had to manage an extra workload during her maternity leave. There were no feelings of resentment or anger because her teammates were justly rewarded for being team players, which ultimately reflected in their performance reviews. This woman reported an incredible amount of stress during the first year of her daughter’s life. However, her manager and teammates were very supportive during the pregnancy and leave. She felt that she owed it to them to give her return a fair shot. Once a year had passed, she felt more confident, had gotten her groove back and was happy with her decision to return to her job. 

I would encourage managers to follow by this example and properly set the tone for how a pregnancy announcement is received by your company. Ultimately, a small act of kindness toward an expecting mother can not only impact her and the team, it can help your company retain female talent.

This article previously appeared on Babies on the Brain.


Jena Booher is the Founder of Babies on the Brain LLC, a company dedicated to empowering women in their intersection of career, kids, and self-care 

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