Finding out that you are pregnant can be quite exciting. But if you spot the pink line in the middle of your appraisal period, there’s probably more on your mind than just joy. The silver lining though is to work for a company that knows how to support pregnant employees. In that case you will probably sail through the nine months, stress-free. And perhaps later when you are ready to rejoin the workforce.
Unfortunately that is still a far-fetched reality for many women.
Even though half of the global workforce today is represented by women, pregnancy discrimination continues to be an issue across the globe. Studies have also proved that not just in SouthEast Asia, but companies in the West also shy away from hiring pregnant women. Expecting women are also denied opportunities such as promotions.
This often forces women to leave their jobs after the child is born.
So what can organisations do to help retain a talented workforce that by virtue of biology is forced out? The answer seems quite straightforward: learn how to support pregnant employees. And some companies do try to help. Independent research proves that this is also happening.
But broadly speaking, there are a few things that most companies can do by first learning how to support pregnant employees, and second, creating an environment of gender-equal growth.
How To Support Pregnant Employees: What Workplaces Can Do To Make The Process Simple
As a company that knows how to support pregnant employees, your human resource executives should be as hands-on as possible. | Image courtesy: Pixabay
Here are some ways.
1) Setting up an easy benefits process
Instead of opaque paperwork and technical jargon that can stress out your pregnant employees, opt for an easy-to-read benefits process. How about just a ‘I am pregnant?’ page with list of simple instructions on how to initiate a conversation on the topic on your internal website?
The first step should of course include booking time with somebody in human resources. They should take the pregnant employee through the process of what they need to do. This discussion should cover all aspects: from maternity benefits, to maternity leave, to pay and promotion, as well as clauses for rejoining the workplace.
That’s not all though.
As a company that knows how to support pregnant employees, your human resource executives should be as hands-on as possible. Disseminating information in a simple way and reaching out often.
2) Creating a support network
A good way to make sure that your pregnant employees feel comfortable and valued is to create support networks. Whether that is within the human resource team or somebody in the employee’s internal department.
Employees can also benefit from support from existing employees who may be parents themselves. Of course this initiative is more beneficial if taken by the expecting employees. It’s also a good idea to start parenting platforms or channels within your official groups. This will help further enable the expecting employees to privately ask questions.
Some companies even have parenting forums and organise days where parents can bring their kids or share experiences on parenting with each other. The idea should be to create parenting communities where parents-to-be and existing parents can share experiences and seek support as needed.
The breastfeeding room in the office should be welcoming and comfortable, one that promotes relaxation. | Image courtesy: Pexels
3) Setting up a mother’s room and normalising breastfeeding in office
More and more workplaces are now open to the idea of establishing mother’s rooms and breastfeeding rooms. This allows for new mothers to conveniently and safely ‘express’ milk without having to worry about who is watching them.
As a company the first step would be to identify the area that can be designated as the pumping room. Ideally it should be located near the cafeteria area and should be clean and spacious enough for the new mother to sit comfortably.
It should also have basic amenities such as a table, a task chair with casters, a sink and even a refrigerator to store breastmilk.
Also make sure that you have electrical fittings for the pump and microwave to sterilise the equipment. As far as the look and feel of the room is concerned, it should be welcoming and comfortable, one that promotes relaxation.
You can also add wi-fi and adjustable light so if the mother wants to work as well, she has the facility in place.
Finally, show the new room properly to the new mum and even to new employees to tell them about how you are supporting them. And, normalise pumping at office by talking more openly about it.
4) Educating employees on the ‘are you pregnant’ question
Imagine if somebody walked up to a female colleague and asked her if she was pregnant in the middle of a corporate meeting break. That is not only inappropriate, it is also seemingly unnecessary for a place where work is the primary priority.
It immediately places unwanted attention on the female employee who is probably waiting for a better occasion to make the announcement herself.
However, there are ways to make sure no such questions are popped.
The first step is to educate employees at the onset that pregnancy is not treated as a negative health condition in the company. It is a normal part of life for most and it shouldn’t be looked at otherwise. There is also no reason for anybody other than the expecting employee to ‘out’ her status, unless requested.
Set up policies for employees to check up on their colleagues’ health during pregnancy more privately to make sure the latter is comfortable.
5) Providing encouragement and mental support
Pregnancy can be a stressful time. Hormones are often fluctuating and the expecting mother can go through an array of emotional ups and downs. Sometimes physical symptoms make it difficult to sit through an hour-long meeting.
Either way, as a company you should be open and willing to provide both mental and physical support. If you have a medico onboard, inform them about your employees condition and encourage regular communication.
On the other hand, ask your human resource team to check up on the employee from time to time to ensure that she is able to manage the workload. Offer help, where needed.
Check your government policies to ease the process and inform the employee accordingly.| Image courtesy: Shutterstock
6) Talking about the next step
How to support pregnant employees may not be a manual, but you can make this journey easy for your employee by talking about the current and future plans. As part of your pregnancy policy, you may have guidelines on delivery, recovery, and/or timeline to rejoin the workforce.
Be open and share these honestly with her. Most countries have a government sanctioned maternity leave policy in place, and adhere to those regulations. If your employee is unaware, tell them about it as well.
The employee may also have been issued work restrictions during pregnancy, perhaps by her doctor. If that’s the case, discuss her personal plans on coming back or transitioning to a new department, if that’s possible. You should also inform her of any crèche facilities that you may have put in place.
7) Easing the return to workplace process
You must have a return to workplace policy in place. If so, inform your employee about the same well before she goes on parental leave. For instance, the Ministry of Manpower in Singapore allows for “16 weeks of Government-Paid Maternity Leave or 12 weeks of maternity leave.”
Check your government policies to ease the process and inform the employee accordingly.
Finally, make sure to create a positive and encouraging atmosphere in the workplace. If you notice an expecting employee, know that the smallest of positive feedback can go a long way.
Source: Ministry of Manpower (SG)
Also read: An open letter to the mother returning from maternity leave