With remote work, women decide who knows if they’re pregnant

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With remote work, women decide who knows if they’re pregnant

I am pregnant for the last nine months. But I haven’t – for the most part – gotten pregnant at work.

Initially, when I started feeling nauseous, I threw it in my own bathroom. The saltine crackers became a constant companion, but stayed off my Zoom camera. A few months later, I switched from jeans to leggings without commenting from my coworkers.

And as my baby grew from the size of a lemon to a grapefruit to a melon, the box through which my colleagues watch me on video calls cut into my basketball-sized belly.

Outside the virtual office, an airport security screener scolded me for trying to pick up a suitcase, cashiers got extra nice and strangers told me how big or small or wide or high my stomach was.

But when I logged on to work remotely every morning, all mention of my ballooning body and impending life change suddenly stopped. Instead, I focused, talked and was asked about the work.

I didn’t intentionally hide my pregnancy from most of my partners. It just didn’t come up often. Which, I would imagine, is how things often work out for the expectant father.

To-be-parents whose bodies do not transmit the pregnancy, it is possible to share the news of their impending baby with close associates, but leave it at client meetings.

They can inform their bosses of their intention to take parental leave before telling coworkers who will not be affected by their absence; They may casually mention at the end of happy hour that their baby is due in a week or so, or give a presentation to a larger group without first explaining that they have chosen to expand their family. My husband told the team he manages to take parental leave at a weekly meeting during my second trimester.

If you’re pregnant, at a certain point you don’t have those options.

But that’s not the case with remote workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a category that expanded in the early days of the pandemic to include more than 42 percent of employed Americans.

Many pregnant women cannot work remotely, and those who do feel lucky. Not going to a physical office means skipping a lot of awkward small talk (“So, are you breastfeeding?”) and unexpected belly massages.

It also means the chance to avoid a certain type of well-intentioned but unwanted help from coworkers – such as an already light workload – that can make women suddenly feel less capable. This behavior is known in the academic literature as “altruistic sexism”.

There isn’t much incentive to oddly insert a pregnancy announcement into a work conference call: Passing up pregnant women for raises and promotions, or putting them out of their jobs altogether, is both illegal and normal.

And research shows that pregnant women are seen as less able, more in need of housing and less committed to work, than women who haven’t had children, said Eden King, a professor of psychology at Rice University who led the study. Let’s look at how pregnancy affects women in the workplace.

Similar stereotypes affect mothers – 63 percent of whom are working while their youngest child is under three – but pregnancy is a more visible identity, Ms. King said. “It can be a very physical trait in a way that motherhood is not,” she said. “So some of those experiences and expectations can be magnified.”

In interviews with 10 pregnant or recently pregnant remote workers for this article, several women said that being pregnant in real life, but not at work, the Zoom screen helped them feel more confident and less apprehensive. That’s what parenthood could mean for their careers. Christine Glandorf, who works in education technology and is due for her first child this month, said that like many professionals on the verge of parenting, she worried that people’s expectations of her in the workplace might change. Remote work solves part of that equation.

“It’s nice that it’s not literally on people’s faces in any way, shape or form unless I choose it to be part of the conversation,” she said.

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Meg Rashkin, who works at a digital content agency, is due with her second child in late March. She hasn’t mentioned her pregnancy to her clients, which has allowed her to avoid awkward conversations she experienced firsthand, such as when a professional acquaintance asked if she was trying to get pregnant. “I can go to a client meeting and just go about business, and I don’t have to say anything about my pregnancy to people I don’t know well,” she said.

In a 2020 study published in the journal Personal Psychology, Ms. King and her colleagues asked more than 100 pregnant women in various industries to track whether their supervisors, without asking for help, assigned them less work. So that they do not overwhelm or protect them from unpleasant news.

Women who received more unsolicited help reported feeling less capable at work, and were more likely to quit at nine months postpartum.

“The more you experienced those seemingly positive but actually benevolent sexist behaviors, the less you believed in yourself,” Ms. King said.

Laura Little, an associate professor in the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia, earned her Ph.D. Started studying pregnancy at workplace while working at . In organizational behaviour, after noticing a change in how she was treated during her two pregnancies. She said that fewer classmates and faculty involved her in new projects, and some assumed she would take her career less seriously once she became a mother.

When she told a faculty member that she was pregnant with her second child, she told him she would never get tenure. A study she conducted with colleagues, which was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2019, examined this apparent change in treatment.

The pregnant women surveyed during several time periods in the study said they received less career incentives, such as advice on how to navigate their organization after disclosing their pregnancy. Expectant fathers reported that they were receiving a little more encouragement after becoming parents.

Ms. Little said that because of older, gender norms, the attitude employers may have toward expectant fathers, “‘You’re the earner, and now you’re more serious – you’re going to be more serious because you Having a Baby,” while women tend to be less serious about their careers when it comes to revealing that they will become mothers.

Despite the younger generation being more likely to say that they believe that women and men should be treated equally at work and at home, mothers in opposite-sex relationships still handle most of the housework and child care. Huh. The same pattern holds for parental leave. While nearly half of men support the idea of ​​paid paternity leave, less than five percent take more than two weeks.

In 2004, California introduced a paid family leave program that provides a portion of a new parent’s salary for up to eight weeks. Although the program offers similar benefits to both new fathers and new mothers, a 2016 study found that it increased the leave taken by women by about five weeks and men by two to three days.

That was the disparity when new fathers actually had the option of taking paid paternity leave. Most do not. Paid leave is still uncommon for both men and women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, 23 percent of all private industry workers had parental leave, up from 11 percent 10 years ago. Although the Department of Labor stopped distinguishing between maternity and paternity leave in its data more than 25 years ago, other surveys show that paid leave is far more unusual for fathers.

These disparities are one reason why the gender pay gap, even between spouses, widens after women have children.

The virtual office may be relatively new, but women have long thought about how to shape their partners’ perceptions of their pregnancies. In a 2015 study conducted by Ms. Little, researchers interviewed 35 women about their experience of getting pregnant at work.

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About 80 percent of women brought up strategies to hide their belly, work extra hard to prove it, or avoid discussing their pregnancy. In most cases her goal was to be seen as “the same” as she was before she became pregnant.

What has changed with the virtual office is that workers can reduce pregnancies more easily and last longer, and women have more control over when they notify their employers.

Ashley Thomas decided not to mention that she was about 20 weeks pregnant during an interview for a remote customer support job at a software company. “If they decided not to hire me, I didn’t want it to be based on my pregnancy,” she said.

After getting the job, Ms. Thomas waited until she was about seven months pregnant to tell her employer that she was taking leave, and planned to tell her team a week before her delivery date. The late announcement, she said, would have allowed her to realize, “I’ve shown I can do this job, and I’m capable, and now I’m comfortable sharing it with you.” But she never made it to the meeting where she planned to share her news. The same morning she gave birth to her son.

All the women who kept their pregnancies away from video conference calls say they fear discrimination. Some of the women I spoke to for this article felt that the news was too private to share widely or that they didn’t want to escalate their concern about potentially losing a pregnancy.

Others thought that bringing up their pregnancy would be a distraction to their work or that they were happy simply wearing comfortable clothes and having a bottle of Tums without their coworkers looking at them.

Some women decided to reveal their pregnancies to their co-workers soon after, despite working remotely. Jacqueline Kim Perez, who works for a blockchain company, announced her pregnancy at a company meeting during the first trimester as she expected her colleagues to be partners. (He was.)

Another woman who works as a recruiter — and asked not to be named because she hadn’t told most of her colleagues that she was pregnant — already disclosed the news to her boss because she had a high Accommodation was required for at-risk pregnancy. Despite the assurances, he feared how he would react. Recruitment is a metrics-driven industry, she said, and her numbers are suffering because of fatigue and time to make doctor’s appointments, which she believes can negatively impact her career, no matter what her boss is. Say.

Giving less visibility to a growing bump can’t compensate for an unsupported outfit, especially when pregnancy conflicts with a job, such as when a doctor’s appointment cuts into billable hours or fatigue, nausea and other complications of pregnancy. Common symptoms interfere with work responsibilities. And the delay in the company’s announcement doesn’t mean that women will face less prejudice once they become mothers.

Still, most of the women I interviewed agreed that there was something nice about having the option to act more like an expectant father when discussing their pregnancies at work. When I began to pass my news to some colleagues during my third trimester, I sometimes enjoyed admitting to my major life change during the work day, especially when it was literally kicking me in the ribs. Plus, I’m happy to choose when and how to bring it up.

As companies call people back into the office, fewer people will have that option. But remote work is one part of the pregnancy experience that can be replicated offline, Ms. King said.

“Some women need help, and some women need housing,” she said. But “you have to ask women what they want and need and don’t assume we know.”

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