Tuesday 16 July 2019

Sian Hawkins: 'I got pregnant just after accepting a new job. Here's how I told my boss'

Many see being pregnant in a new job as a problem. Stock photo
Many see being pregnant in a new job as a problem. Stock photo

Sian Hawkins

I've always considered myself quite brave when it comes to confronting difficult subjects or getting things out in the open. I am often described as 'not backwards in coming forwards'.

But having to meet my soon-to-be new boss at 8am on a cold and rainy Monday morning to tell her I was pregnant over a decaf floored me. I had barely slept the night before, had the worst morning sickness thus far (induced by anxiety) and was physically shaking when we sat down.

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Thankfully, she was very supportive and understanding. I left feeling like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and that I could actually start enjoying my pregnancy.

But why should I, at eight weeks pregnant, four weeks before even stepping foot in my new office, feel compelled to 'come clean' about my condition? And why did I feel like my employer had a right to be annoyed or affronted by my starting a family?

As women, we are still battling against deeply entrenched sexism and social norms around employment, motherhood and career aspirations. And when these areas of life collide, it can be incredibly daunting.

Without even realising it, I had internalised many of these expectations around motherhood and working life. I was suddenly judging myself according to unwritten rules: you shouldn't quit a secure job if you want a baby; leave it at least a year before getting pregnant if you are in a new role; and, this one is top of the list, don't even think about starting a new job while pregnant.

So when I found out I was pregnant, three days after accepting my new job and handing my notice in, my gut reaction was sheer panic. And that was despite the fact that my baby was very much wanted and I have a supportive partner.

My feelings of anxiety about starting a new job pregnant were amplified by the fact I was leaving a secure and brilliant job elsewhere. I had been in my previous role for nearly six years, was well established and had plenty of career development opportunities. So when I saw that second line on the pregnancy test, I questioned whether the right thing to do would be to try and rescind my resignation, call the head-hunter and change my mind.

But being pregnant didn't change how I felt about my career. I knew I needed a new challenge, and as much as I loved my previous job, I was at risk of starting to stagnate. I was excited about my new job and dying to get stuck in. Being pregnant wasn't going to change any of that, and I didn't want to feel trapped in a job I had outgrown.

I've been lucky. My new boss was genuinely happy for me and I will benefit from the maternity package. Other women, many other women, are nowhere near as fortunate, so it's little wonder no one really wants to 'risk it'.

When I posted about my experience on Twitter, I was heartened by the supportive responses I received. But my situation is not the norm and there are so many women who are scared to leave jobs or start job hunting while planning a family - effectively stalling their careers, for what could end up being years.

Then of course, there are those women going through IVF, which can be a heartbreaking and excruciatingly long process, where many feel they must hide their treatment from their employers so as not to give the game away and what it might mean for their jobs if they do.

There's no doubt that some things have moved forward for women working into and through motherhood (and for fathers, with many companies looking at their paternity leave offerings). Yet, the very fact I feel 'lucky' to have been treated in a fair, respectful and supportive way betrays a strong undercurrent of discrimination rippling barely below the surface.

At best, my job change has been described as "unconventional" and "brave" and at worst as "controversial" and "bad timing".

We all have a role to play in breaking these barriers down and normalising the transitioning of women in and out of jobs at the same time as having babies. I'm excited about seeing how I will juggle motherhood and my career. I know I'll be tired, I know some days will be rough, but I also know I've made the right call and will do what I can so that other women can have the same opportunity.

Irish Independent

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