Gender discrimination also happens at nonprofits
We've added a special guest expert's opinion to this DoubleTake! Mandy Johnson, CEO of the Small Charities Coalition, adds her unique, UK-based perspective to this discussion.
Nonprofit experts Gary G. Godsey, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, and Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, MissionBox co-founder and CEO, have teamed up to create MissionBox DoubleTake — a column that offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector. The opinions offered here are based on the authors' personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.
How do I tell my boss that I'm pregnant?
I am the fundraising coordinator at my nonprofit. I’ve been here quite a while and I know my experience and knowledge of donor relationship development is very important to our success.
I recently married and my boss is constantly making “jokes” about me getting pregnant, as in “don’t get any crazy ideas about having a baby — we need you too much”. Or, “I’ll never forgive you if you jump ship on us.”
I just discovered that I am pregnant and my husband and I are very excited, but now I am afraid to tell my boss. I feel I’m letting everyone down if I take maternity leave for more than a few weeks (I actually plan to stay home for at least six months). Also, I am scared he might be so mad, he’ll just fire me immediately. And we're saving to buy a house — our household needs my paycheck until I deliver my baby.
How do I tell him without setting off an explosion or getting frozen out as a traitor to my team? This issue is really stressing me out.
Mandy says ...
A huge congratulations on your pregnancy.
I sympathize with you about the fear of telling your manager you're pregnant. I once had a (female!) manager who gave me a promotion and then said, "now don't you dare get pregnant." Thankfully I was able to leave that organization before starting a family.
Sharing news like this can be hard. Your family and friends are likely to be nothing but delighted for you but your boss's first thought may well be the impact it will have on him. You can alleviate some of these fears or concerns by anticipating them and being prepared to talk about them.
It might be an idea to have already drawn up a plan to share with your boss when you tell him. Share the key dates that you are already aware of such as any annual leave you have left to take, your due date, when you'd like to start maternity leave and any antenatal appointments you already have in the diary.
Tell him about the career aspirations or goals that you still have. Make it clear that becoming a mummy doesn't change your commitment to your career. At the same time there is no need to be apologetic for taking time off to spend with your baby. Having children is a fact of life and the UK government has decided that having up to a year off is good for everyone involved. How much of this year you choose to take is a personal decision. I was lucky enough to take a full year with both my boys but other women find that they want to return sooner.
You could also suggest a plan for when and how you will hand over your work, projects you will complete, how you would like to keep in touch while you are away and a plan for returning to work. Thinking through and planning all this now will show your manager how dedicated you are to your work and will hopefully alleviate any concerns he may have. Your plan doesn't have to be set in stone; it is impossible to know how you will feel when you become a mummy, but it's good to have a starting point for you and for the business.
I wish you the best of luck.
Gary says ...
First of all, please don’t stress out over this situation. There are laws in the U.S. that protect you from being discriminated against because you are pregnant. Check that one off your worry list. First and foremost, I wouldn’t tell anyone about this until you are past about 16 weeks in your pregnancy. That’s just playing it safe on your end. Once you have decided to talk to the boss, have a plan of action laid out in your mind. Please be as forthcoming as possible about your plans. They will appreciate your honesty. The fact is, your plans may change. Once the baby arrives, you may find that you do not want to return to work or other factors prevent you from returning. Don't make any promises you can’t keep. Just play it safe on your end.
Once you have delivered the news in a professional manner, the ball is in their court. Make sure you have checked out all family leave polices to know what you should do to start coverage. If your boss decides to fire you for being pregnant, then he and the organization will literally have to pay the price. The law is clearly on your side in this instance. Don’t be intimidated or made to feel bad about what should be a joyous time in your life.
Kathryn says ...
You are not alone in your worries. Many women report a well-founded fear of telling their employers that they are pregnant.
Experts on this issue advise waiting until the 16th week of pregnancy, to ensure all is well and to take the time to consult your nonprofit’s employee policies regarding pregnancy. Some larger or family-friendly organizations provide paid or unpaid maternity leave or short-term insurance benefits. Others have no protection policies (especially a problem in the U.S.) and you may feel very much on your own.
In the U.S., the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, passed in 1978, made it illegal to discriminate against pregnant women in the workplace. Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new guidance on how to interpret the PDA and other laws protecting pregnant women on the job.
You might want to familiarize yourself with your legal rights. Also consider talking to an employment attorney so you can prepare for your interview with your CEO.
Having said all that, you still have to tell your boss about your pregnancy and your plans once your baby is born. Pick a private meeting time. Assure your boss you are well able to do your job while pregnant — if you wait 16 weeks, you’ve already proven that. Also, offer to help screen, hire and train your replacement, if time allows. If you plan on leaving for six-months (or forever), this assistance may be very welcome.
If you are the victim of a tirade or insults, or if he fires you (and this does happen more than one would think), quietly excuse yourself and call a lawyer. Hopefully, your CEO knows the laws protecting you and won’t go that far, but it’s good to have a plan of action should this type of discrimination occur.
Assuming he is unhappy to lose you, but professional and nondiscriminatory, then you can decide if you want to share your exciting news, and plans, with supportive team members. Selective sharing may help make the rest of your time with your nonprofit positive and transparent. Depending on where you live, the size of your organization and applicable laws, you may be able to plan on returning after your maternity leave or you may be leaving your job permanently.
On an emotional level, this situation can put you through stress you don’t need now in your pregnancy. Talk about your feelings with friends or family and ask for support. Educate yourself about your legal protections and remember that you have a right to have a child and that your CEO’s opinion is all about him and his nonprofessional actions, not about you and your family choices.
My best wishes to you and your husband on the upcoming birth of your child.
CNN: 8 rights of pregnant women at work by Annalyn Kurtz (2014)
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act 1978
Gov.UK: Maternity Pay and Leave (UK)
Gov.UK: Pregnant employees'rights