Pregnant women working up until their due date is nothing new. In fact, due to the role someone has or their financial situation, not every woman even has the luxury of choice when it comes to working or not working before a baby arrives, or afterwards.
Last Friday, our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced her pregnancy in social media, which triggered a myriad of opinions from around the world. On the whole, the response was positive and congratulatory, endorsing her as a role model for gender equality, and set Ms Ardern on the path of political celebrity (if people hadn't known New Zealand's prime minister before, they do now).
"Even if she occupies the highest office in the land, a woman can become a mother, and there is full support around her to enable that. We can all get behind this, and it sends a powerful message to the world about the role of women and about gender equality." - Associate Professor Grant Duncan
But ...much to my chagrin... there were a few opinions flying about implying that because she's pregnant, our prime minister somehow suffers an impairment rendering her less able to do her job.
As a business owner and mother of two, I'm calling this out.
Me and my munchkins last year.
Facebook COO extraordinaire Sheryl Sandberg
Women can work and parent
Facebook COO and author of book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg (pictured above - watch her TED Talk here), and Former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer both ran multi-billion dollar companies while pregnant and as new mums.
Running Facebook and Yahoo! are arguably much bigger and more high pressure jobs than running our wee country. And they carried out their roles with aplomb (bearing in mind Sandberg also became an unexpected single mum when husband Dave Goldberg passed away suddenly in 2015).
And we shouldn't forget other high profile, successful pregnant and working mums:
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki with five children, Natalie Massenet who started Net-a-Porter while pregnant, Fortune 500 company PepsiCo's CEO Indra Nooyi, Founder of the Huffington Post and Thrive Global Arianna Huffington, human rights attorney and mum of 6-month-old twins, Amal Clooney, Chairman of Universal Pictures Donna Langley, CEO and Co-Chairman of Fox Television Group Dana Walden, Bank of America Chief Operations and Technology Officer Cathy Bessant, CEO Deloitte Cathy Engelbert, NASDAQ President, and CEO Adena Friedman... plus whole tonne more.
Woman can do everything, and I reckon it's time to get beyond the "can she or can't she?" rhetoric when it comes to pregnant women in business.
I was pregnant with my first child, Amalie, when I was 25 years old. I worked up until I was due, and luckily I was in a position where I could take six months off work after she was born. In contrast, when I had my second child, Mieke, I was running my own business, so I was working 24-hours afterwards from my bed, with an energetic toddler and a newborn. I had made preparations for extra support in case of complications, but I was lucky, all went (relatively) well so I could just get on with it.
So I've lived both sides of the coin. And do you know what? When I had to hit the ground running after my second baby I got it done, because when you're a high achiever, you just do. Pregnant or a new mum, when you are committed to a business or organisation - as an employee or the boss - you put on your big kid pants and just get on with it.
Sometimes a power nap is all anyone needs to recharge during the day.
What workplaces can do to accommodate expectant and new mums
This is not to say that organisations can't do more to help our nation's mothers, which is ultimately supporting the wellbeing of our kids.
One of the toughest times of any pregnancy for many women, is their first trimester. This is a phase of morning sickness (often), and dramatic hormonal changes in the natural process as the body creates a nurturing habitat for the growing baby. Ironically this toughest time is when traditionally you don't tell people you're pregnant.
For pregnant women, and the women who return to work after a short break away, there's a lot organisations can look at implementing into the workplace.
Such as providing:
- Work from home options - even if just one day a week - and let them Skype in for important meetings (we provided the work from home option for one of our new dads in the office for four months after his first baby was born last year)
- Flexibility for shorter working days, shorter working weeks, or to job-share and working part time (many of the mums in our office work shorter days or weeks)
- Nap rooms (for all staff) to take the much-lauded power nap and increase alertness and productivity (I've made the most of one of our meeting room couches a couple of times)
- On-site creches (can be rationalised for large organisations)
- Closer parking availability for pregnant women (that baby gets big and heavy)
Granted, small businesses may not be able to meet all the needs of a new mother in the way medium-sized businesses and corporates can. But if a business wants to keep its valuable staff, it's worth investigating how to create long-term employment.
Ultimately what women need is not other people casting blanket, ill-informed opinions when they are pregnant. Rather they (we) need compassion, considered thoughtfulness, employment flexibility and a hell of a lot of respect. Think about it, growing a healthy baby is nothing short of miraculous ...talk about multi-tasking.
Wendy Thompson is the CEO and founder of Socialites. This piece was originally published on her LinkedIn.
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