Pregnancy is a life change. It changes you, your body, and your priorities. Being pregnant at work also changes how others perceive you. It also affects the assumptions they make about you, your abilities, and what they believe you should want and need.
These assumptions or biases are deeply rooted in our psyche, a result of our life’s experiences, the images we see in all forms of media and the ideas, even the most subtle of them, presented to us every moment of our waking hours.
We’re all guilty of biases, and in essence they’re just our brains way of taking shortcuts, so it doesn’t have to work so hard. There are plenty of times these shortcuts work in our favor: when was the last time you had to think about which leg to put into your jeans first?
Yet, for soon-to-be or working mothers, unconscious or implicit bias can significantly limit our potential.
Once pregnant, women are perceived to be less committed to their careers, less competent in their jobs and less willing to go after opportunities than their childfree female counterparts, let alone male colleagues overall.
As a result, the pay and promotion gap widens for women just about the same time they become parents for the first time.
Faced with such biases, it’s critical to be strategic when announcing your pregnancy at work.
It’s also important to proactively reaffirm the value you bring to your team and company, while positioning yourself for your future role as a working mother (which comes with it’s own onslaught of implicit biases).
Here’s a 5-step plan that will help you do just that.
1. Identify your influencers
Success at work isn’t simply a result of your skills or the time you dedicate to getting your work done. To get ahead you’ll need the right people on your side. Yes, this includes mentors and sponsors. It also includes decision-makers that have influence over you, your team and your career. This could be your manager, but it could also be your manager’s boss. Equally, it could be peers or others who have the ear of stakeholders you need on your side.
The aim is to build relationships with influencers who can support or possibly champion you over the remaining months of your pregnancy, while you are out on maternity leave, and then, once again when you return to work.
2. Build your reputation
Now that you know your influencers, your aim is to maintain a steady conversation with them that will build your reputation as a valuable contributor to the team. This starts with regularly sharing the projects you are working on and letting them know about your successes in real time.
You’ll also want to look for opportunities where you can provide your influencer with value. Ask them what they are working on. Then, find ways you can help – provide an insightful article, connect them to an expert or volunteer to take on a specific task.
To demonstrate your commitment to the team, be sure to let them know how you are preparing for a smooth transition of your work when you are ready for maternity leave. And, let them know about your specific maternity leave plans – when you’ll depart and when you intend to return.
3. Openly share your career goals
As you near the end of your pregnancy, it’ll be time to turn your conversation to the future. Let your influencers know about your goals or aspiration you may have for your career once you return. By doing this you can plant seeds that can sprout while you’re out on maternity leave. Or at the very least, it will give you an opportunity to follow-up on the conversation when you return.
Plus, your proactive conversation may help intercept some of the biases they could have about mothers.
But don’t just tell them what you want. Ask them if there is anything you can do before your leave that could get you closer to your goals.
4. Look for ways to work smarter, not harder
Working while pregnant introduces a number of new challenges. There are physical ones that could make doing your job more difficult. Plus, you’re juggling multiple and frequent doctor appointments that will keep you out of the office. And, you still need to get your work done.
To make it all work, look for ways to work smarter. Start by clarifying priorities with your manager, so you are focusing on the work that will contribute to the team’s success. You’ll also want to be clear on expectations. Now that you know what you need to do, you’ll want to consider how you can get it done most efficiently and effectively.
5. Deliver. Deliver. Deliver.
This is an obvious one and one you’d do anyhow, right? Yet, in a few months, you’ll be out of the office. So, use this time to leave a lasting impression that you are a dependable, committed and diligent worker – many of the very things new mothers are perceived not to be.
Here are a few ways to do this: don’t overcommit. Promise only the things you know you can deliver upon. If you can’t meet a specific deadline, say so and come up with a plan that will work. And, if things aren’t progressing as they should communicate your challenges and seek help.
These are great strategies for women who are working while pregnant. They can also be used by anyone who is looking to reinforce their value at work and position them for future success – be it a promotion, or possibly, a career change.