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High-level working mama: getting ready for babe

Many, many of us have been there before, preparing to tell our employers about expecting a baby.  I was nervous telling my manager this most recent time, even though I knew how family-friendly and family-supportive my organizational culture was/is.  Still, it is hard.  It is hard to plan for a several-week or several-month absence of any employee.  It can be even more difficult when that employee manages others or oversees programs.  An urbanMama recently emailed about her not-so-positive experience in sharing the news of her expanding family:

When getting prepared to tell my boss about my pregnancy, I was excited and optimistic.  I was as prepared as I thought I could be. I had a very professional letter written that clearly and humbly outlined my requests for parental leave and for how I would handle having my work covered.  The reaction was not what I expected; there were a handful of what could easily be considered discriminatory statements about how we would deal with things.  The possibility of this reaction did not cross my mind.  I anticipated that there could be concern about how we would get things done, but not any insinuation that the work could *not* get done.  I was especially shocked that this was coming from a woman, who is a mother, who is also in a high-powered career.  

This is a director level/administrator position and I won’t have been in it for terribly long by the time I am expected to deliver.  I am highly committed to my work and have ZERO doubt that I can develop a plan that will ensure the needs of my organization are met.  Women do it all the time and the world continues to turn.  In this case, it is not as easy as saying “that is discrimination and it is illegal!”  It is a promotion that was scheduled to happen in the next month or two and the position had not been officially offered (but I assure you was a done deal up until this point).  I have been counting on it for quite some time while the program was being created – it is not something I can just walk away from.  I imagine some would also say “why would you want to work for someone like that?!”  Well, it is also not that simple – this person has been an amazing influence on my life thus far and as I said, this reaction was highly unexpected.  I am hoping that it was a knee-jerk reaction and my boss will let it digest and do the right thing. 

In the meantime, I want to do all that I can to secure this position [even while pregnant], which includes developing a feasible maternity leave work plan proposal, in advance of actually securing the position. 

Are there any executive level administrator/director-type mamas out there who can help with recommendations for how work at the top level gets done while you are out for a few months when there are little to no people to “cover” for you?  Did you hire a temp?  Can you find adequate temps?  Would you be willing to share your work plan proposal?  I could potentially see a model where a handful of administrators from other departments pitch in to cover various pieces. I would love to connect directly, so please send me an email directly if you are so inclined.  Otherwise, I look forward to your comments below.


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How terrible and demeaning. I just think that a baby is much more important than a job. Having other people do your job is better than having other people care for your baby, in my opinion. Years later I hope you can look back and say, "I'm sure glad I took what time I could to be with my baby. A job you can come back to. A baby you cannot, that short window of amazing, wonderful, critical development is gone."

I think women need to just dig in their heels and say what they need, and let the professional workplace get used to it. It might take another 10-20 years, but it will only happen if we stick up for what is best for us. There are lots of reasons to keep working mothers working, in a way that all can find satisfying.

I think the writer had a good approach with stating her personal needs and possible ways to meet professional needs. I think with an alpha person like the boss sounds, perhaps a good approach is to say something along the lines of "This is what I'd like to do, and I have some ideas on how to meet work obligations if you'd like to discuss that with me." And take 100% of what is allowed by law. That's the least we can do for our babies if it's feasible.

What burns me up about people like this boss, is that regardless of what she did for her children, I wonder if she thought about what her parents did for her. Many of us were raised by women who stayed at home for a while, at least, but grew up in a generation where the middle class is expected to only spend 12 weeks and days off with an infant. I think many are realizing it doesn't feel good or work well for everyone.

I really believe strongly in a year off with partial pay and health benefits, and being able to come back to your career job. Most of us will work for nearly 50 years of our life. what is a year here and there? Most of the rest of the world does it.

I was in a similar situation work-wise, even with a very family friendly boss (his wife had twins a month before my son was born). I did a few things: as soon as I knew I was pregnant, I started putting a plan in place for getting as much work done in advance as I could. If something could be finished before my leave began, it was. I also identifed a handful of people in my department that could help cover different areas, and started getting them involved in my work (mostly this was to have them available to answer questions or deal with unforseen issues while I was out). I was fortunate enough to be able to hire a temp, who I started training a couple months in advance (she ended up being kind of terrible, but that's a different story - at least there was a body at my desk). Lastly, I put together a two-inch binder with sections dedicated to each area of my job, updated right before I left. Each section included the basic information relevant to that issue, what had to be acommplished while I was on leave, any deadlines that were upcoming, and advice on some of the common issues I dealt with in that area. It's been six years, and I still have a copy somewhere (I think my boss still has it too). It took at TON of planning and hard work, but it was worth it to know that I was leaving things in as good of order as possible. Everything didn't go perfectly while I was gone, but I know that my co-workers and supervisor appreciated the effort, and that goodwill really helped. Good luck!

I wanted to point out an additional viewpoint - that these are critical times in business and many companies have cut the "perks" of flexi time, job shares, extended leaves, etc - it has nothing to do with gender, or those of us wih kids, etc - comes down to bottom line. Many companies have adopted an "all hands on deck" rule right to get companies through these tough times. To meet each quarterly target - time is precious in business each quarter, each phase of a project, etc. You need to do what's right for you but I would not assume just because your manager is a female with kids that she can't ask critical questions for the business' needs. A good site to reference leave plans, etc is Wall Street Journal's blog "The Juggle" http://blogs.wsj.com/juggle/

Good luck.

Similar to KarenNM, I came up with a plan to divvy up my job among a few key people (including my boss himself, who actually trained me to do my job anyway), began training those people, finished whatever I could ahead of time and made templates, cheat sheets, etc. so whoever taking over my work could easily assimilate.
But mainly, I went back to work part-time, from home, at 8 weeks. I regret it. While the agreement was that I would begin working 20 hours a week and "ramp up" to 40 weeks by the time 12 weeks came around, I was basically working 30 hours a week as soon as I became available. I was lucky in that I could do a lot of my job from home, but that also made my boss consider me to be available to take on a full load a lot earlier than I really was.
The biggest thing I had going for me in negotiation is the fact that the community I was living in had a severe child care shortage, and my boss, who had five kids and was actually a really great guy, knew it just as much as I did. I ended up working from home at least a few days a week until my daughter was six months, simply because I couldn't find any daycare for her before then.

Like Wami, I intended to go back three days a week at eight weeks. It was awful. Not only was I not at all ready physically, mentally, or emotionally, I really couldn't do my job in three days.

So I ended up asking for intermittent leave. This is an FMLA option that employers can choose to offer, in which you take the equivalent of 12 weeks, but spread out through one year.

I worked out a four-day week for a year (it's complex, but with some holidays, and the way my paid time off accrued, it happened). It was much better than the short-lived 3-day week plan I'd initially gone for, on all levels.

I'm so sorry you're going through this, but the other commenters are right. You must settle for no less than what's required by law, and don't be afraid to ask for what you think you'll need.

You are essentially asking your employer to take a risk, put you in a new, high-level position, and then say good bye to you for a chunk of time. So you'll need to convince her that the risk is worth it. If your relationship is what you say it is, I think you can do it.

And congratulations on pending mamahood!

I am an administrator at a large college. When I was preparing to have my second child, I proposed a job share, which was ultimately rejected. I then successfully negotiated a reduced contract (3 days/week), which I am beginning my second year of.

Through this site, I found the site WorkOptions.com, which has resources for parents who are trying to negotiate work situations that allow for work/family balance. This includes proposal templates different family-friendly work situations. I highly recommend purusing her proposal templates for some ways to negotiate the kind of maternity leave you want. They cost money, but not much given what you get from the site. Everyone who saw my job share proposal commented on how thorough it was.

I also want to point something out in response to Elle's comment. I can understand where she is coming from. On the other hand, losing a talented, valued employee (which it sounds like the OP is) forever is time-consuming and more costly than doing without her for 3 months. Research demonstrates over and over again that when employers give employees flexibility in schedules, those employees are more productive and stay in their jobs longer, which improves the company's bottom line.

I think that a lot of employers these days are making the mistake of thinking that because there are so many job seekers, their employees are somewhat expendable. But recruiting, hiring, and training good people still takes time and money -- more than keeping the good people you have.

Sigh. Isn't it pathetic and anti-family and truly a disservice to our country that so may women (and men!) have to work so hard to negotiate/balance work and family life. I'm very sorry for what so many of you have had to wade/negotiate through. I know every job is different and comes with varying levels of responsibility- much of which can't easily be handed off for a few months, but I can't help but thinking that our country's policies and beliefs about parenthood and work are partly to blame for the mess and emotional tug-of-war so many parents find themselves in.

I've been in a very similar position twice, with some nuances. in the first instance, the position most like yours, I found out I was pregnant a few days after starting an executive-level job with a very small company. while my boss -- the father of three very young children himself -- was outwardly congratulatory and flexible, I later learned that he was both resentful and suspicious I had known about the pregnancy before accepting the offer (which in my opinion would have been perfectly and thoroughly legal AND ethical, but he didn't see it that way). however, I forged forward, making a similar sort of plan for a number of other employees to take portions of my job. it worked great administratively (though I ended up, four weeks later, in court with my boss pursuing an anti-competitive action against the employees who'd left to start a new company while I was nuzzling with my baby. which is not a helpful anecdote at all). BUT. it's good at least that your boss, despite her somewhat illegal statements, is at least being upfront about her feelings. open criticism is far better, in the end, than closeted resentment. it's a lot easier to overcome the bias you know about.

in the second example, I was about five months pregnant with Monroe when a very attractive promotion came open at my company. while my bosses interviewed me for the spot, I'm fairly certain they never seriously considered I could do it, given my impending unavailability. my bosses were very careful not to say anything illegally discriminatory, of course, and I had to shake my head a little when the woman who'd been chosen instead of me left the company less than a year later for an organic arugula farm.

I think you should point out to your boss, as gently as possible, that putting faith in you while you negotiate this change in your life will only cement your loyalty to her and the company, and that you're certainly less likely to run out and interview for a new job when you REALLY NEED the benefits and reliability of the one you've got. in my opinion mothers, especially first-time mothers who are established in their careers before having children, are far more loyal employees than their male counterparts, and can give anecdote after anecdote in support of that. I can't count the number of lateral new hires and promotions of soon-to-be fathers I've witnessed in the departments in which I worked in corporate America. dozens, to be sure. when it's daddy, the link between craving job security and expecting one more mouth to feed is a no-brainer. it's thoroughly crazy that mothers have to hold the crayon in our bosses' hands to connect the dots for them.

oh: and I don't think temps are necessary. how work gets done is that the lower-level employees do everything but make the big decisions, and they ask your boss or call you for the big decisions, which you can just as competently make in bed nursing a baby as you can in the office. for both of my corporate pregnancies, I made detailed lists (in Excel :) of all the duties that would normally get done by me, where the procedures for those were, and who would be responsible for them while I was gone. for both, I spent hours and hours writing up the procedure for certain things that no one knew how to do but me. in both cases, the stuff that no one but me knew how to do, waited until I got back... and in both cases, after I'd left the job, those were the same things that my bosses called me asking for help with.

another thing to do is to pick, now, the employee who reports to you who's most competent and who you trust the most, and start including him or her on all the meetings you can. for most young employees, it's thrilling to be involved in these high-level meetings, and flattering to be trusted. I remember taking over one of my VP's work when she went on maternity leave as a 23-year-old, and feeling proud and even more loyal to her as a result; I've never seen this strategy in real life have the romantic comedy-script result of having the young'un try to steal the new mama's job while she was gone.

good luck, and congratulations on your impending motherhood!

This takes me back to almost two years ago. I had just been hired into an administrative position less than 30 days and found out I was pregnant. I decided to try and keep it a secret. After two weeks and horrible nightmares of losing my job for not being honest I decided to sit down with my bosses individually. I can not tell you how suprised I was to find them to be happy and supportive. I will never forget my boss saying, "first of all congradulations and secondly, you are not going to lose your job." It was such a relief. We started training three people to take on my tasks while I was gone. I did spread sheets and had notes in a book for them to reference to. I sat down with them as they did the various functions to help answer questions as the came up. I worked until I was 40 weeks and had to start my leave. I recommend having a detailed plan. I had the ability to work from home one day a week. Your boss may need to digest this information, if your relationship is as strong as you say I think she will be able to come around. Set up a plan of action together for the next few months to ease into the transition. Good luck and congrats!

Sometimes women are their own worst enemies. This lady probably has her own hang-ups about her own parenting, and her own work ethic, that influenced her response to you.

I've been through this... working in a very important/integral position with noone to cover you on maternity leave. What happened with me: they suffered while I was gone. I'm sure it sucked and I felt horribly guilty for months. But guess what my bottom line is: my kid (now, kids).

You will never look back in life and say "Gosh... I wish I would have worked more". It is just not. that. important. I totally understand that is a hard pill to swallow. But if you swallow it, you will be more connected to your child and a happier person in the end.

Best of luck. Parenting is so much harder than you can ever be prepared for- even from the first moment that test turns pink!

Jenny B

Geeze, I just had to respond... Jenny B, yes sometimes "women are their worst enemies" and sometimes there is a bigger issue it's called a recession, where companies are laying off well qualified people who don't put the needs of the company first and other companies are cutting employees benefits while another company is making their employees taking a cut in pay to keep the staff employed. All the while people in "middle mangement" i.e. the original poster's boss is being asked to tow a hard line, if we make the exception for employee a, then employee b, c etc will want those concessions - nit saying this is right - but unfortunately it is the nature of many of our businesses right now. As a previous poster said just because a manager is female don't expect any concessions especially in today's economic constraints. Jenny - who are you to judge this manager's work saying she has "hang-ups about her own parenting, and her own work ethic, that influenced her response to you."

Wow. Really?

Newsflash many women don't have the choice to work full time or not. Some women wish to work full time. So please Jenny practice what you preach and don't be that "enemy" you preach about.

Many of us do not have a choice about whether to work, and some of us do. You have to do what makes you happy and what works for your family.
Before my first child I worked very full time. When my son was born I switched to 3/4 time and returned to work at 8 weeks pp when they started calling at 6 weeks. With my second my intention was to go back 50% time. However I got a call about 2 weeks before returning to work that the temp I had helped hire (who was single w/o children) was going to work my old shift and that they had 15-20 hours to offer me on the days she was not available unless I wanted to come back to a full time position. Initially I was crushed, but it all work out with the family and financially. So in my case all the preplanning, best laid plans, well they worked out...just not as I had hoped.

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