Top 3 reasons women aren’t scheming to ‘take advantage’ with their pregnancy despite their bosses fears according to EHRC

When I was interviewed on the television recently about the EHRC’s research on employers attitudes towards hiring women of reproductive age, the statistic that rankled the most was the finding that 36% of employers felt they’d seen a woman ‘take advantage’ via her pregnancy. I’ve spent 20 years advising companies on these issues and 2000 hours executive coaching women; women who share their deepest concerns about parenting, fertility and career planning. I have yet to hear a woman say: ‘Yeah, I’d like to get a new job, preferably with a small company, and then get pregnant – that will show them!’ Instead, let me share the top 3 things I hear in both coaching and presentations such as Pipeline to Promotion’:

1. I’d like to plan another baby, but will wait until this big new project is over as that would’t be fair to the rest of my team….and I want my boss to know how committed I am.

2. I’m just a few weeks pregnant, but fear telling my boss. They’ll do what I see with every other woman here – they’ll take me off my best clients and give them to the new guy down the hall, despite the fact he’s confided to me that his wife is pregnant and he’ll be taking his full paternity leave.

3. I’m struggling to get pregnant now because I waited for (insert one): that big account to close, my new boss to find his feet, until I felt I’d groomed my team well enough, until I’d been promoted – all of which  took longer than I anticipated – but team first, right Suzanne?’ 🙂

Interestingly, just because a women may have pregnancy plans doesn’t mean they will happen. The medical journal, The Lancet, showed that only just over half of all pregnancies were actively planned– the rest were unplanned or left the woman feeling ambivalent. So asking women about their ‘plans’ may be a moot point in any case! No doubt there are a few women who to your average boss, appear to be ‘taking advantage’. But I’ve never met them – I’ve only ever met women who agonise over timing, telling colleagues and advancing their careers when surprise, surprise, their bosses may have written them off before they’ve even uttered the initial words: ‘Congratulations!’ to the expectant mother.

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STV Suzanne Doyle Morris

Top 5 things to remember in the 3 minutes before you go live on your 1st TV Interview

As someone who routinely gives keynote presentations to large audiences, I truly did not expect to feel so nervous when giving my first television interview to STV on the latest research from the EHRC on employers attitudes towards hiring women on reproductive age. Truly dismal stuff, and a topic on which I felt strongly. However, the pressure is different as in a speech, I may have 45 minutes to make my points, whereas a television or radio interview is a different kettle of fish – you only have moments to make a strong impression. Preparation is vital so check out these 5 key tips. But there is still more to learn, particularly in the 3 minutes before we went live on air.

1. Breathe and speak slowly:

It is unlikely that the audience can actually see your heart pounding out of your chest, so take a breathe and speak slowly.

2. Ask what the very first question to you will be:

This may sound obvious, but I’d prepared different points based on the themes the producer told me on the phone. In the 2 minutes before we went to camera, he told me my first question – and it wasn’t the one I’d prepared. Use this as an opportunity to think how to shoehorn the answers you were ready with into their first question.

3. Check the screen details:

Have they spelled your name, qualifications and your company name on the text below your name  – and that they know how to pronounce it all.

4. Be you, nobody does you better:

Use your hands as you need them. This is a personal foible of mine. I know I should probably sit on them when speaking, but do what makes you feel more like you – and if using your hands makes you feel most authentic, go on and gesture away!

5.  Stay hydrated:

Lastly, have a glass of water near you to sip whilst the other panellists are getting questions. Unless you are a Sahara desert runner, your mouth will never get as dry as when you are waiting for that next question…
All in all, I did decently – plenty I wished I’d said and things I didn’t have time to mention. But the upside is that it’s your first media interview and you can always show it to a loving parent or someone else who wonders how you can possibly be ‘working’ all day from the desk in your home with time to do laundry in between calls…. 🙂

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Should small businesses be allowed to ask women about their family planning?

I was interviewed on STV recently about the EHRC research on employers dismaying attitudes towards questioning women about pregnancy. After 20 years consulting on these issues, I particularly took exception to the finding that 40% of employers felt pregnant women ‘take advantage of their pregnancy’. Another speaker on the panel argued that businesses ‘are for making a profit – not to become mini social services for their employees’.

Clearly, businesses do need to make a profit, but the speaker operated on the assumption that doing well by your female employees and making a profit are somehow mutually exclusive.

But we know happy employees are engaged, loyal and give more ‘discretionary effort’ – that magic sauce every employer wants. Treating people as if they are ‘mini-maternity time bombs’ won’t get you that discretionary effort and is more likely to lead to higher turnover of women of reproductive age, which drives this self-fulfilling prophecy.

Let’s see how this vicious cycle initially works for many of my corporate clients, particularly in our presentation on ‘Keeping Good People for Longer’: “She’s a parent who I don’t really trust...and I can’t figure out why she’s not going that extra mile for me.  Now she’s about to leave…. which proves I was right about working mothers all along.’

People like to assume that small businesses should be exempt from pesky legislation because on a small team ‘everyone is too valuable’ to be pregnant and need a break. Indeed on my own team, two of my first hires took protracted leaves for personal reasons. One got the unplanned opportunity of circumnavigating the globe in a sailboat and the other went cycling around China for 3 months. One told me in interview, the other did not. Both came back, grateful for my flexibility, galvanised and all the more loyal. We had our best financial years ever.

However, both were young men without children – but they too wanted personal time. These guys were great workers, they were the right people for the job, but to keep them, I had to work with them and what they needed  – and I was paid back in spades. Should I have been able to ‘future proof’ their employment when we first started working together by thinking to ask ‘Do you think you’ll ever want to take a round the world trip in the next year or two?’ No, it didn’t occur to me and we simply worked around it. Notably both men were regarded as complete heroes by other guys when they returned – something we rarely see when a mother takes parenting leave; though it’s far less glamorous and arguably harder than a cycling holiday.

Plus, much like reproduction – their trips might not have happened at all or on their schedule; timing being a challenge couples face all the time. Mother nature may not play ball with your fertility just because you were a ‘good girl’ and told your new boss you were thinking of having a baby in the next 18 months. By contrast, another member of my team who, by all the indicators employers feel they should be told about (she has 3 daughters and her grandmother living with her) is actually my most productive, and again completely loyal and reliable – I like to think because of the flexibility I give her.

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