Does your career have to end when you fall pregnant?
Updated: Mar 9, 2019
Sevda Gurpinar works at LinkedIn in a Senior Sales position.
I recently found out I am pregnant. My first emotions were happiness and excitement. But the next one was anxiety! I wasn’t anxious because a baby will completely change our lives. I was anxious about telling my manager I am pregnant. And before I carry on I should mention that I work at a company that truly values diversity and inclusion and backs this up with how it treats its employees, whether that be with flexible working, maternity and paternity leave, the culture and so on. Yet still I felt anxious about telling work about my great news!
Why was I so anxious about this? I built it up in my mind that once I told my manager I was pregnant the past 5 years of hard work would be forgotten, and I would instead be “an employee that was going to be off for some time”. As a consistent high performer my career has always been really important to me and a huge part of my life and now I was worried that my career development might stall and that it could be a case of “out of sight, out of mind”, meaning I won’t be considered for promotions or pay rises in the near future. And I was annoyed that this clearly was not something my husband had to think about. This is not his fault, but a default position I found myself in (which brings me to a whole set of other topics, but I will leave those for a separate post).
So after weeks of anxiety about what I was going to say, how and when I was going to do it, what the reaction might be, I decided to treat this like a business problem and find a solution. I consulted my mentor and a couple of trusted work colleagues/friends (which I highly recommend if you are in the same position). Here are the steps I ended up taking to feel confident about telling my manager:
1) I scheduled a career conversation with my manager before I told him. This made me feel more confident that plans around my short to mid term progression would not be clouded by the fact I was pregnant. In theory they never should be affected by this but I felt better about it this way.
2) Before telling my manager I thought about every possible implication or risk of me being out of the office. I thought about everything I can do in the run up to my maternity leave to leave my clients in the best possible position. I thought through all the contracts I have and those I will be able to close whilst at work and those that will need attention while I am on leave. I thought about what skills will be required from the person that will take over my maternity cover so that they can be successful in a short time period and create as much consistency as possible for my clients and for the business.
3) I decided that I can take control of maternity leave and not see it as time out of work but instead a time to reflect on my work priorities and really think about what is and is not important. We get so caught up in our day to day jobs that we often don’t have enough time to really think about the long term and focus on the things that increase our knowledge and productivity. I decided on certain things I will commit to during my leave to keep myself updated with developments in my sector like reading business and technology publications on a regular basis. I will also try to make the most of the psychological break from work and gain more from learning in a different field, which would give me a new angle to work when I return. An example of this is taking some online courses that I have been wanting to do to update my skills but never seem to find the time (this will be my first child so maybe I am slightly optimistic :) but I like to have a clear plan and execute on that plan so I will be holding myself accountable baby and mothers health permitting).
4) Finally, I decided that it is my responsibility as a professional who truly cares about taking positive steps towards breaking the glass ceiling to be unapologetic about having a child. I have worked hard my whole career and been loyal to my company and role and will continue in this manner whether I become a mother or not. So with this in mind I decided that I will call it out if I feel that my pregnancy or maternity leave are not handled in the appropriate way. If ever I feel that becoming a parent limits my career progression unfairly I will be open, honest and constructive about it so that I can help others that find themselves in my position in the future. This makes me a little nervous but this way of thinking no longer makes it just about me, but also about my company, it’s culture, and my colleagues, which will hold me accountable to following through on this one (and now I have put it on LinkedIn I really won’t be able to chicken out!).
I realise that all of the above may sound a bit extreme or unnecessary, but it was necessary for me to remove my anxiety about telling my manager I was pregnant, and I hope it helps others that may be feeling the same way.
And for anyone that is interested – I told my manager a few weeks ago and it was much easier than I had anticipated. That said, I realise not every organisation may be like mine. Every woman has the right to a successful career during and after pregnancy.