What’s Stopping Us from Promoting Women While They Are Pregnant?

Promote Your Best People — Pregnant Women, Too!

by Arvin Patel, EVP and Chief Intellectual Property Officer, TiVo

One of the people on my team is about to go on maternity leave, and along with the excitement and joy of welcoming a new baby, we decided to offer her an additional reason to celebrate: a promotion!

Why did I promote her? Because she deserved it! It seems like a truly antiquated idea not to promote someone because they happen to be pregnant. Too often in America’s corporate culture, pregnancy is treated as a threat to people’s careers. What an awful feeling to think that years of hard work would be derailed because you are pregnant! I want to help put a stop to this sort of thinking. Our workplaces should be free of fear, and free of discrimination. Pregnancy should not disqualify someone from a promotion; in fact, it could actually be viewed as a positive career development. Having a child is a joyous occasion, and as I’ve personally found as a father, it often makes you a more compassionate and understanding leader.

Now that we have promoted this pregnant employee, not only will she come back to our company after her maternity leave, but she’s going to come back to a higher-ranking position that will be an even better fit for her talents and drive. I couldn’t be more pleased to offer this promotion to someone who is so deserving — and announcing the promotion now, right before she goes on maternity leave, is an ideal occasion.

Why am I promoting someone before they go on leave for months? After all, many executives might be reluctant to promote someone in these circumstances. Other executives might think, “What if the employee decides not to come back to work?” Or, “What if their performance suffers in the new role, due to the added challenges of new parenthood?”

As a proud and happy parent, and as someone who has also been fortunate enough to build a successful career while also raising a family, I believe strongly that executives need to adopt a more open-minded perspective on what maternity leave really means. We need to exert supportive leadership and make our organizations welcoming and inclusive places. This also means being inclusive of new parents (mothers AND fathers), and of anyone who might need to take some time away from work to handle a personal health challenge or to care for loved ones.

By promoting this top employee who is pregnant, I am trying to make a strong statement that my company and my team are happy to accommodate the needs of a wide variety of people at all stages of their careers. And hopefully the business will benefit as well.

Here are a few reasons why I believe in promoting an employee while pregnant — and why it could be the right move for your organization, too.

1. Employees are more loyal to organizations that show loyalty to them. New mothers should not have to choose between their child and their career, but all too often, this is the choice that moms are forced to make. Companies are realizing the value of providing paid parental leave and how it can improve the retention of women. For example, studies showthat:

  • Women with paid parental leave are 93% more likely to keep working 9–12 months after giving birth
  • 91% of California employers said that paid family leave either has a positive or no effect on profitability
  • Accenture saw a 40% decrease in female attrition after expanding its paid leave from eight weeks to 16 weeks
  • Google saw a 50% decrease in the turnover rate for female employees after they expanded paid maternity leave to 5 months.

Expanding paid parental leave is a good start, but it only speaks to part of the larger problem. New moms often face the risk of career derailment. For some it happens by choosing to leave the workforce to care for children full-time for a few years, only to find that they later face difficulty getting back into their career field. Others choose to downshift their career focus and not maintain the same level of career ambition they had prior to having children.

Whenever possible, I believe that we need to proactively reach out to talented employees and support them through their life transitions such as welcoming a new child to the family. Let’s show our most talented people how much the company values them, not only by offering them “the same job” to come back to after parental leave, but by giving them a promotion.

2. New parents have heightened skills and dedication. It’s wrong to assume that new parents and especially new mothers are somehow less dedicated to the job or less able to get the job done; this is a harmful stereotype and all of us in executive positions need to do our part to stop it. Working mothers are more prevalent than ever before! As of 2017, 70% of mothers were working outside the home, and mothers were the sole or primary breadwinners for 40% of U.S. households with children. Clearly, there are plenty of mothers who are working in high-level positions and earning significant income for their families. In fact, I would argue — having made an informal survey of some of the working mothers that I know — that women coming back from maternity leave often have higher productivity and a stronger dedication to their jobs. Working moms often develop heightened time management skills, bigger social and professional networks, new sources of personal confidence and creative inspiration, and a powerful sense of commitment and responsibility to the job that helps provide for their children. Don’t assume that the new moms on your team are somehow “less than” they were before. They are often operating with newly discovered working mom superpowers!

3. Send a message of support and inclusion to other employees and prospective talent.Beyond the immediate question of whether or not to promote this particular employee, I believe that promoting women on maternity leave in general sends a powerful message and illustrates the character of our company culture. I want everyone on the team to know that they will be still be valued and respected if or when they need to take family leave. I want our company to be an employer of choice. The way we treat our employees sends a message about the kind of company that we are and what sort of company culture we are creating. Almost everyone, whether or not they have children of their own, might have to take FMLA leave or medical leave at some point — whether it’s to care for an aging relative or sick/injured spouse, or for an illness or injury of their own. Promoting pregnant employees sends a strong message that our company values people at all stages in their lives, and that we are committed to them for the long-term.

Family and medical leave is temporary and is a small part of one’s overall career. I want people on my team to go ahead and take the time that they need to bond with a new baby or take care of a parent who’s having a health issue. And when they come back to work, we will be ready to take their careers to the next level, together! Companies are in a war for talent, and we need great contributions from employees at all stages of their lives. We can’t afford to lose good people to the inevitable challenges of having families. Supporting our employees through their life changes is the right thing to do, and it’s also good for business.