These Questions Will Help You Stop Judging Pregnant Women at Work


Do you know a pregnant colleague? Have you already drawn negative conclusions about her intentions, abilities, basic competence, and general character? Hold the phones, you’re probably being a dick. Here’s how not to.

It’s 2015 and in spite of baller strides in human perfection, women are often still the Rodney Dangerfields of public perception: They get no respect. This is especially true for working mothers, who still face an incredible amount of real discrimination, which begins the moment a woman announces her pregnancy and is then forced to perform at high speed while still making sure everyone else feels good about her competence, body, hair, outfits and general demeanor.

This is especially true with pregnant politicians, and in a piece at The Guardian, Laura Bates looks at some of the recent comments surrounding the pregnancy of Rachel Reeves, Labour member of Parliament who intends to keep doing her job even though she’s going to reproduce. Working while pregnant is about as scandalous as keeping your name after getting married, yet people still have a lot of Feelings about it. Bates writes:

To read some of the comments and think pieces about this revelation, you might be forgiven for thinking that she had admitted an ambition to make bonfires of taxpayers’ money.
The “stupid woman” is “setting the case for working women back by about 50 years” according to one column. Another spits that she is “treating motherhood as a part-time obligation, almost a hobby”, is not “fit to represent women” and should be disqualified forthwith from “ever making important policy decisions affecting women”. Fellow MP Andrew Rosindell fretted that she might not be able to give the job her “full attention”, arguing that “people need to be put in the positions they can handle.”

First, I really hope that guy never experiences kidney stones, the human man’s closest proxy to giving birth. Second, Bates offers a set of seven questions for anyone who “might still find the very common act of reproduction a bewildering minefield” to consider before rushing to judgment about a pregnant woman’s ability.

But before we get to that, I want to mention that it isn’t just men who find themselves making judgments about a pregnant colleague’s commitment to work. It’s other women, too.

In a recent piece here about Katharine Zaleski, the president and co-founder of a placement company that connects tech women to jobs they can do remotely, we became more acquainted with the kinds of snap judgments women can often make about other women, which ranged from questioning the commitment of a mother who couldn’t meet for post-work networking drinks due to family obligations, to doing nothing to suggest that it was wrong to fire a coworker before she got pregnant so they didn’t have to deal with the headache.

I think this is in large part due to the fact that successful women have had to internalize the workplace values set by men, values which are distinctly sexist with regard to how workers are valued, how leaders are determined, and how family life can factor in to a successful employee’s image. When some women manage to succeed in these male-determined settings, they may pat themselves on the back for successfully mimicking male values and behavior. The trouble is, this becomes the standard by which everyone is held to, and they may directly or inadvertently perpetuate it themselves as bosses. Seriously, did we learn nothing from 9 to 5 and its ingenious ideas for flexible schedules and work-life balance for working mothers?

Bates’ questions have an obvious and justifiable air of condescension to them given their target, but I think they’re actually helpful to all of us to reconsider when we find ourselves assessing another person’s choices. Here are a couple:

Am I being patronising to the pregnant woman?

Asking women how they are going to handle their pregnancy is totally unacceptable unless it’s a pregnant teen or a woman who has just come to you and said, “Holy shit I am pregnant, now what?!” (Which happened to me! So I sympathize!)

Bates writes:

Worried about how they’ll juggle childcare with their job? The chances are they are too, but they’ve probably got a plan to make it work. Concerned they’re not taking their job seriously enough? Relax – considering they’re the one that’s been doing the job up until now and are intimately acquainted with its challenges and demands, they’ve probably got it covered.

Am I treating it as an anomaly rather than a normal part of life?

In this arena, women get it stuck to them both ways: Not having a child is selfish, having a child under certain circumstances is selfish. Why can’t we get to the point where we treat pregnancy and children as a perfectly normal outcome for lots of people, something they need support to figure out, not judgment? Bates writes:

Collectively dealing with the needs of pregnancy and parenthood should be built into the very fabric of our workplaces, businesses and societal ideas about careers, not bolted on as an afterthought. The experience of pregnancy and new parenthood shouldn’t be treated as something shameful that women feel they have to hide in order to be seen as competent. For those who choose to stay in work it should simply be assumed that necessary support during and after pregnancy – such as flexible working hours, shared parental leave and on-site crèches – will be provided. It should be a national scandal that around 50,000 women a year lose their jobs as a result of maternity discrimination.

Have I considered the fact that women may experience pregnancy differently?

Bates writes:

#NotAllPregnancies will prevent women from being able to continue working. If you think pregnancy is by default a completely debilitating condition, check out Olympic athlete Alysia Montano, who competed in the 800m while in her third trimester; Amy Poehler, who brought the house down with a rap about Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live while nine months pregnant; and Marissa Mayer, who took over Yahoo while 28 weeks pregnant.

This is, of course, its own hell for other pregnant women, who then feel pressure to be superhuman while pregnant when they may not be able to or want to. Additionally, how a woman handles one pregnancy may or may not be like the way the next one goes, just as how one woman experiences pregnancy is not representative of how all women will experience pregnancy, another point Bates makes.

Do go read the rest of the questions, and consider whether this is something you’ve ever been guilty of. Because one thing is for sure: We need the extra scrutiny from our colleagues and superiors about as much we need to piss ourselves the rest of our lives every time we’re startled.

Image via Getty.

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