How we (don’t) talk about maternity leave in the tech industry

This morning, Business Insider pointed me to a Medium post by Peretz Partensky, whose co-founder Na’ama Moran is pregnant while raising another round of VC funding for their startup.

It’s a great post, and if you’re interested in this topic at all – by which I mean, if you work in tech you should be – it’s an important read.  It also links to several other thoughtful pieces by women reflecting on pregnancy and work in high tech.

When talking about venture capitalists, Patensky says,

“But just because they aren’t asking, it doesn’t mean the pregnancy isn’t foremost in their minds. It is almost worse left unaddressed.”

This is an incredibly important point, and one that is relevant in general, not just in the venture world.  Somehow, the anti-discrimination laws introduced to protect women during pregnancy have instead created an environment where people are afraid to talk about pregnancy.

I’m lucky, and I know it – during both of my pregnancies and subsequent maternity leaves I worked for people who were open and invested in my successful departure and return.  Most recently, at my current company Infinio, where we’re very direct and everything is discussed openly, and before that at Dell, where I had great management who were somewhat stifled by corporate guidelines.  And that put me in a situation where I find the anti-discrimination laws, at least as they were enforced, a hindrance to figuring out exactly how I would manage being out.

I get it – first and foremost there should be laws that protect women from discrimination while they are pregnant and when they have children.  But right now this is coming at a cost of better – actually, any – dialogue about pregnancy and children in the workplace. People are afraid to say the word “pregnant.”  Afraid to ask about a woman’s plans. Trained not to push a woman to commit to plans after maternity leave.  And thus relegated to making assumptions about women’s preferences and choices that may be completely incorrect.

Like I said, I was lucky.  Before I went on my first maternity leave, my Director asked me if I thought I wanted to come back to the same level of responsibility or something that was less taxing.  (Legally, they had to hold my role at my level for 12 weeks, but he was asking something subtler than that.)   Knowing I wanted my old job back but being open to the idea that once I had the baby I’d feel different, I said, “I think full force, but I won’t know until it happens.”  I will always remember what he said, “No, if you think you want to come back full force, you probably will.”

It was great advice, and he was right.  It is also a great example of the kind of direct conversation that is usually missing in planning for maternity leave.

I’ve written about this before.  Here are my comments on maternity leave, and here are my thoughts on Marissa Meyer.  I also found this post on someone else’s experience being the first pregnant woman at her startup very helpful.

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