In April of 2021, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. I was two and a half years into my then-position and was ready for more responsibility and challenge. Things were growing stale and my job began to feel like a daily rinse, wash, repeat. I was freshly 31, and knew it was time to take the next step, and I had the ROI backing my efforts to prove what I deserved. Oh, I was also keeping a fun little secret: I was seven weeks pregnant.
I had never been in a professional situation like this before; a crossroads of the next steps of my life with pathways that were intertwined to a fault. I felt dishonest typing up my document, providing detail on the growth that I contributed to the organization (because Rule #1, you never approach a promotion conversation with A) I deserve this! B) I’ve been here awhile and C) Have absolutely nothing to show for it besides your verbal explanation). The proof of my success existed, and pregnancy wasn’t changing that, so why did I feel guilty asking to take the next step while my little bun was in the oven?
Why are we conditioned to feel guilty or like we need to take a step back while we’re pregnant? More on that later.
I wound up calling two trusted friends – a former boss and a leader – and swore them to secrecy about the “P” word. Honestly, I pressed them for their opinions as hiring managers and people leaders, and whether they felt that what I was doing was deceptive or out of line. Both of them answered, “No.” Instead, they congratulated me and told me to keep pushing for what I wanted in my career. I was the same Steph that had all of the proper credentials, except now, I could add growing a child to my resume.
In full transparency, the conversation with my boss did not go well. I was shut down pretty instantaneously, which as you can imagine, was like throwing a match on gasoline when pregnancy hormones are involved. Instead, I decided to use the outcome as motivation to A) Keep excelling in my current position B) Be in the zone of familiarity during my pregnancy C) Keep a running checklist of “wins” and plan my next move a year later once maternity leave had ended.
There are a few key lessons that I took away from this situation that I’m eager to share with anyone who is planning to have children while in the mid-senior level in their careers, or those who aim to be there someday in the future:
Pregnancy and Promotion are NOT Mutually Exclusive
Being pregnant surely changes you, but it doesn’t change you. Just because I was growing a child didn’t mean that I couldn’t handle taking the next step in my career, inclusive of more responsibility and a leadership role. Pregnancy is daunting at best, I won’t sugarcoat it, but it doesn’t mean that you have to take a backseat and calculate 10-15 months that you’ll be sedentary in your career (unless that’s your choice, of course).
On another note, pregnancy is a scary game of chance, and anything can happen. Miscarriage is a topic that is becoming less taboo and more open to discussion. I had a chemical pregnancy and it was devastating. Just like you can’t play a game of “what ifs” with your pregnancy, you can’t do it with your career. Go for it.
Not Not Disclosing Your Pregnancy Shouldn’t Make You Feel Guilty
Technically, you only have to disclose your pregnancy to HR when you’re nearing the preparation of insurance documentation before your maternity leave. Otherwise, there is no reason that you have to say a word about your personal situation to your boss, coworkers, or anyone you work with prior to. Don’t feel obligated. I disclosed at 14 weeks and only because I was friends with coworkers on social media, and didn’t want them hearing through the grapevine.
Differences in Organizational Perception Do Exist
I know women who have found new roles while pregnant or gotten promoted in their current roles, post-HR disclosure. I have also heard stories, albeit illegal, that hiring managers refuse to hire pregnant women or those in child-bearing years because they leave financial and work-related gaps in the organization for years to come. Unfortunately, you’re going to find both scenarios and have to navigate the environment.
After I didn’t receive the promotion, I was very dejected. I was well-prepared going into the conversation and had plenty of positive KPIs and quantifiable metrics to share regarding initiatives that I had implemented in my position. When it became clear that I wasn’t going to rise to the next level at my former organization, I moved forward with the following mentality:
A) Excel in my current role and maintain the comfortability that I had in my position – but keep networking externally in preparation for the future
B) Once I gave birth, maternity leave had ended, and I became comfortable in my new role as a “Working Mom,” I would look for a new role that provided the level of responsibility and leadership activity that I was seeking.
At five months postpartum, I took a promotion – managing a global team – and made a move. In full transparency, I did get laid off seven months later, but in retrospect, I would make the same choices all over again. This leap brought me a newfound level of experience, appreciation for marketing, and respect for myself as a mother and career woman who was challenged in all directions of life.
I am not shy in wanting more – out of my career and for my family. I am not bashful about asking companies about their paid parental leave policies. I will never again hesitate in asking for a promotion, if it’s warranted, while also being pregnant. If you think about it…we take a chance on organizations just like they take a chance on us. We could either help each other out, or let each other fall.
One thing is for sure: a belly bump and maternity leggings shouldn’t deter you from asking for an extra 15% or to lead a team.
Mother, strategic marketer, and empathetic leader with 10+ years in B2B and B2C realms, with Fortune 500, startup, and agency experience. Expertise in demand generation, brand and content development, email marketing, SEO, SEM, social and advertising strategies, and public relations. Experienced team leader with proven earned and paid growth, customer retention, and revenue generation. Proficient in developing multi-platform integrated marketing communications plans for FinTech/SaaS companies, CPG brands, and consumer services. Earned an MBA in Marketing from Stony Brook University, author of the book, “Surviving My First Decade in Corporate America”, accomplished public speaker, and author/host of the “CMO