A woman I coached recently was apprehensive about telling her boss and colleagues about her pregnancy. She’s not alone. This is a question that plagues virtually every working woman who’s expecting…and even those thinking about starting a family.

Dreamstime
Source: Dreamstime

The common fear is that once they announce this to their boss, they’ll be perceived as being less committed – regardless of how baseless that is. (Meaning your boss could passive-aggressively revert to a virtual infant!) But take heart. You can vastly improve the outcome by developing a solid strategy early on.

During this time of excitement and exhilaration, there can be times where endless work-related questions arise – and they can cover the gamut:

  • How will my boss react?
  • Will this affect my career momentum?
  • Will colleagues treat me differently?
  • How should I handle questions about my future career plans?
  • What will I do about maternity leave?
  • Will I be able to look professional during my pregnancy?
  • Should I hide my baby bump as long as possible?

They’re all valid questions…and there are scores of others, depending on your unique circumstances. Many of the issues boil down to your interpersonal relationships. But first, it’s worthwhile looking at some of the more tangible facets.

For example, make sure you understand your company’s maternity leave policies. More progressive policies seem to be on the rise, and not just in Silicon Valley. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 21 percent of large U.S. corporations offered paid maternity leave in 2015, up from 12 percent in 2014. Most would agree, however, there’s much more to be done in mainstream corporate America. Here are a couple helpful sites that address the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and other tips.

Create Your Empowerment Strategy

If you’re like many pregnant working women, there’s much more than maternity leave on your mind right now. As unfair as it sounds, you may sense a highly subjective, unspoken and/or misguided perception about your future commitment among managers – and about future increased workloads, among peers.

You want to have a successful strategy that not only counters these concerns – but also creates the right mindset for you – boosting your confidence, performance and job satisfaction. This is one of the most precious experiences of your life (it was for me) – so why not take steps to embrace it at work?

Here are some tips to consider as you navigate the best way to proceed, while feeling more empowered:

1) Think about timing. There’s no impending rush to get the news out. Many women wait until at least 9-11 weeks when they’re more in the clear. There are those who wait it out until it’s readily apparent. A lot depends on how you feel about keeping it to yourself. If your pregnancy starts affecting how you feel physically and you have to miss a lot of meetings, for example, you may be better off being straightforward about the reason.

2) Know your audience. Once you've decided to announce the news, your timing does matter (for any sensitive discussion), so know your boss’s preferences for important meetings. What do you think will be the general reaction? That will help you frame your discussion. Your manager may need a lot of reassurance – or, they may know you well enough to just be excited for you and know you’re still are “on the team’ – or anything in between.

3) Anticipate specific concerns. Take time in advance to have answers ready for questions that may arise. Your boss may ask you anything from, “Are you going to stay through most of your term?” to questions about how you’re feeling. Some of this can venture into a discriminatory tangent, so remain professional and share only what you’re comfortable with, while demonstrating your commitment.

4) Know the culture. You might have an educated guess on the experience for other pregnant colleagues – which will help you gauge how to address the news. Talk to trusted coworkers if necessary to gather some insight.

5) Don’t paint yourself in a corner. If you’re asked about your plans to return or about maternity leave, don’t commit just yet. You may be anxious to return relatively soon, or not know until things settle down. If you’re certain you want to maintain a long-term relationship with your employer, it’s okay to share those general sentiments without pinning yourself down.

6) Put your emotional intelligence on steroids. Even if you sense no concern, let your instincts tell you if it still makes sense to sit down privately with certain managers, colleagues and/or a contact in HR. Make a list of those people before you start the process (although word may spread quickly!) You’re not there to appease anyone, but you may want to express your dedication. This will ultimately give you a greater sense of comfort in your work environment.

7) Carry your baby bump with pride. This is a joyous time in your life; your world is about to change in unimaginable ways. Walk with confidence in knowing that you have a new dimension to add to your life and work experience. Your role as “mom” represents significant responsibility and wisdom that transcends the office (and can often be applied to the office!) That can help remind you of the power you hold.

8) Look and feel your best. Now and throughout your pregnancy, you’ll find many ways to convey your professionalism, not only in your words and actions – but also in your attitude, posture and appearance. That will help you stay on top of your game.

A savvy, enlightened employer will realize how valuable an asset you are and react favorably; after all, they’ve trained you and you understand their culture. They'll find ways to keep you on board and content. Still, a little advance planning in your announcement will go a long way in your own job satisfaction.

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