“While flexibility at work continues to evolve in different ways, and we find the ways we best work, it can be exciting. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to navigate. I’ve found for so many it’s the combination of what you want personally, the systems you have in place, visibility of those systems and the different types of work that exists. Then the choice is less about, ‘do it’ or ‘don’t do it’ but ‘what do I want?’ Ask yourself, ‘what systems do I need?’ ‘What type of organization do I want to work with?’ and ‘What type of role do I want to have?’ What we are beginning to see is the matching of what you want, and what places of work will provide,” said Stephanie Kramer, Author, Educator and Human Resources Executive.
Although we tend to gain personal power when we become Moms, many of us lose professional power. What begins as a very private journey is also quite public. And other people’s opinions, about what we can or cannot do in our careers, influence our trajectory.
Is it surprising that hiding pregnancy is so common? Stephanie’s new book, Carry Strong: An Empowered Approach to Navigating Pregnancy and Work, cites that less than half of women (49%) feel ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ comfortable telling their managers they’re pregnant.
Almost half (43%) of women pause or stop their careers for childcare. And despite the skills we gain, both pregnancy and maternal bias, remain obstacles to advancement. Which can add financial strain to a time of physical and emotional vulnerability.
In her new book, Stephanie tackles the invisible and often emotional labor of navigating pregnancy at work. And how we can emerge at any stage of our professional and parenting journeys, feeling more informed and confident, combining the two.
Open the Door to Authenticity
Stephanie said, “I’m extroverted and all of a sudden, I had something that was a complete secret, affecting me every single day. I knew I wanted to continue my career when I became a Mom. But the actual forcing function, bringing them together, was getting pregnant. And then suffering pregnancy loss. From that moment, through the birth of my first son, followed by challenges to get pregnant again and birth of my second son, I felt like so much was unsaid.”
In the book, she demystifies the needs at each stage, even before trying to conceive. And takes aim at the hidden nature of what is a transformational life event. She added, “I realized that we are almost always having these conversations behind closed doors at work. So, I saw an opportunity to talk about these un-talked about topics in way that supported individuals in this powerful moment. Even if they themselves were not comfortable to share while they were going through it.”
Consider the Full Range of Work Options
Stephanie said, “The caregiving burden was exposed during the pandemic in a way that it never had been before. Although we are only beginning to navigate the future together, it showed that it existed, which is step one. There are new models for work even in some of the most traditional fields. Including fully-remote, hybrid, and even fractional roles up to CEOs—it’s a different way to look at the “how”.
Although there are certainly differences across industries and fields, overall, there are more possibilities. And some lasting pilots. She added, “Work from home, even a day a week, without a special request can be such a game changer. It has been for me—especially because now it’s less about asking for permission and more about mutual respect.”
Embrace The New Rules of Leadership
Stephanie said, “Managers and leaders, especially in the past three years through the pandemic, ongoing racial injustice, and so much more have had to show up in a different way. They have had to show up as who they are as people, not just as leaders. In times it was quite literal with everyone showing us their living rooms and pets or families.”
Including Mutual Feedback
This transparency has raised expectations for managers’ comfort and skill with important conversations. She added, “It’s a critical two-way relationship. So, when you receive feedback it’s important for your manager to also say, ‘what feedback do you have for me?’ If that doesn’t happen, an employee can also ask: ‘would you be open to some feedback too?’ That’s one way to create a reciprocal rapport—and definitely not just one time at the end of the year.”
Decide on Your Comfort with Disclosure
To open up, whether it’s about family planning or your health, with a near stranger can feel excruciating. Stephanie said, “The communication is tough. Especially when we’re behind a screen, talking about personal things. When people ask for advice on difficult conversations about pregnancy, miscarriage, or fertility treatments, I explain you don’t have to say everything to get the support you need.”
And Your Communication Style
In the book, Stephanie talks about recognizing your communication style and that of who you are communicating to. “It might be your style to say directly, ‘I’m going through fertility treatments. And I’m going to need to come in late once a week in the morning because I’m doing morning monitoring. Can we reschedule those meetings?’ Another person might say, ‘I’m going through something personal. And right now I don’t need anything, but I wanted to let you know and will come back to you if I do.’ We have no obligation to share, but sometimes, like with any medical situation, we may want or need to.”
Determine Who Needs to Know
Pregnancy is one of many conditions that requires support in the workplace. But there are many other circumstances for you, or someone in your family, that you may want to elevate to your employer.
Stephanie said, “Break down your circumstance into what you need and then identify who needs to know. Does it have to be your boss? Is it Human Resources? Is it a friend, ally or even within your Employee Resource Groups (ERG).”
Choose the Best Channels
Once you’ve decided to share more about your needs, and who needs to know, decide how convey this information. Stephanie explained, “When and where does it take place, is it a one-on-one conversation? Is it a is it an e-mail or written communication? Is it timely, i.e. ‘I need to talk to you right now. Because this is affecting every single moment of my day.’ Or is it when you have a regular connect conversation scheduled.”
She explained that critical conversations are important to have in the right spaces. “Simply, for me if the conversation is difficult, I like break it down into: who, what, when, where and why. The structure can support you to share with comfort and confidence.”
And Consult Your Own Board of Directors
You can intentionally find and nurture other sources of support too. Stephanie said, “I often recommend to people to curate their board of directors and to build trusted relationships. This board could include someone who was your manager in the past, who knew you in a different capacity, or maybe it’s someone who has a very different worldview.”
Stephanie has her own trusted group. “For me it’s someone with grown children, a mentee with their own unique priorities, someone who’s known me for 20 years and someone who’s known me for less time, but in a different capacity than work. What’s fantastic, is when they know you in so many different ways, they can be a true sounding board of perspective. And can stay with you even though manager and work relationships will change. It’s also important to create a community of support. One that includes mentors, advocates, allies, and friends, for whatever you need in the moment or as you continue to grow.”
Commit to Your Part in Better Work/Life Experiences
To create a culture of work, that values caregiving, we need to upgrade the support, discussions and perceptions at the beginning. These skills will not only improve pregnancy but the wide range of caregiving conversations we have through our professional lives.
Stephanie said, “All of us have a role to play. If you are or want to be a leader, on any level and in any organization, you can make a positive impact. In major life moments, do your best to ensure the environment and conversations are as safe, transparent, and comfortable as they can be.”
Many thanks to the talented Stephanie Kramer!
Check out her amazing new book, Carry Strong: An Empowered Approach to Navigating Pregnancy and Work. And follow Stephanie’s great adventure on her website, Instagram, Twitter.
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Stephanie Kramer is the author of Carry Strong: An Empowered Approach to Navigating Pregnancy and Work (Penguin Life, May 2023). Stephanie is CHRO of L’Oréal USA and teaches management communication on the graduate business program at the Fashion Institute of Technology where she serves on the program’s Industry Advisory Board. Stephanie has two young children.