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Feeling patronised at work...

(24 Posts)
Blankiefan Thu 20-Jun-13 20:42:58

I am a senior manager and am 20 weeks pregnant with DC1. I've started showing more recently and am struggling a bit with how I'm being treated. At this point I should acknowledge that I'm sure many women face explicit and blatant discrimination - this is not what I'm facing but I do have concerns and would like your perspectives.

My company doesn't have a lot of female senior managers and very few that have been pregnant. I work quite closely with my immediate manager and his manager.

We were having a conversation today regarding things I'm working on - pretty significant business priorities. Whilst working through timings, they asked when I'd be finishing. I explained that I would work until (at the earliest) 2 weeks before my due date. They immediately poo-poo'd this, explaining that their wives weren't able to do this.... I have two issues:

- it feels wrong for them to judge me by the yard stick of their wives. Whilst this is DC1, I know me - I have lots of reasons for wanting to work as long as possible (interest in the things I'm working on, the need to keep as much as possible of my planned 6 months mat leave for when the baby's here, my fear of going nuts at home...). I know things will become more difficult but I feel really patronised by this approach - the idea that they know best.

- I feel that they feel they are going out of their way to be reasonable and make concessions for me. I've no problem with a heavy box being carried for me, etc, but I don't expect / need work-related concessions to be made. I think they think I need to be given a break and this means they're qualifying what I achieve against a yardstick that has concessions written against it. The truth in fact, is that work has gotten really busy and I'm probably working more / contributing more than in the last year. I've been away from home 2 nights this week and worked a 12 hour day in the office today - I ain't slacking!

So - what do you think? Am I over-reacting? And what do I / should I / can I do about managing these two issues in the coming months - I can only see this continuing / these attitudes and behaviours being entrenched... (also - if you work at a senior level, when did you start your mat leave?).

Thanks for reading

nancerama Thu 20-Jun-13 20:50:47

Whilst it's annoying to have your pregnancy compared to every other pregnancy your colleagues have encountered (along with random bits of advice from total strangers), I think your colleagues are wise to plan ahead and make contingencies. Perhaps they've been clumsy with their choice of language, but they will be the ones holding the fort while you're on maternity leave and they'll want to make sure everything is in good shape before you head off.

Babies don't always come on their due dates. I worked up until 39 weeks, but SIL went into premature labour at 34 weeks.

Timeforabiscuit Thu 20-Jun-13 20:56:30

I'd also take their interest in good faith, it's fantastic you're having a good pregnancy and long may it continue, but things turn from normal to interesting to fuck me scary in a short amount of time (not to alarm in any way), but just keep being professional, and reiterate that you'd like to keep working as long as you're able, I just said I'd go mad staring at maternity bag and wanted to spend as much leave with the baby.

Take it as a plan for the worst and the best will happen.

RedPencils Thu 20-Jun-13 20:56:48

If you are planning important project dates around you due date I can understand their apprehension. You jut don't know what will happen and if you are ill or have to finish early what will happen to the project?

All the other stuff is annoying though. I had similar. Tbh most of the time I was too tired to do anything about it.

Timeforabiscuit Thu 20-Jun-13 20:58:34

Mine was threatened preterm labour at 28weeks with my second child, everything was fine - but still an unexpected three days in hospital because of a bladder infection of all things smile

HazleNutt Thu 20-Jun-13 20:59:56

No you're not over-reacting, this kind of attitude would certainly piss me off. I'm still working without any issues and I'm due..tomorrow. Just tell them clearly that you are pregnant, not sick or disabled, and you don't need special treatment unless you tell them differently.

PinkApple86 Thu 20-Jun-13 21:04:18

Men will never relate to how you feel. My colleague keeps saying "a woman in your condition shouldn't do this/that" and I have to keep reminding him that I'm not ill and I don't have a condition! I work in sales, I'm the only woman, and we sell quite techy stuff and I also get discrimination by customers, particularly male who are probably sexist pigs to start with but when they see my belly I can just see them looking at it and not at me. Some have actually completely ignored me and refused to speak to me in favour of a male colleague. All I will say is don't be too hard on yourself if you want to finish earlier. I'm 27 weeks and already struggling so im finishing as early as pos at 29 weeks. All the best.

Blankiefan Thu 20-Jun-13 21:19:27

Sage words ladies... All appreciated.

Timeforabiscuit - "things turn from normal to interesting to fuck me scary in a short amount of time" grin great turn of phrase; I may pinch it!

Chickpea1983 Thu 20-Jun-13 21:41:35

I am in exactly the same position as you, and also a senior professional. I have 2 male managers (matrix organisation) who have discussions without me about how I need to spend time thinking about my baby and 'being pregnant' and how they need to ensure I have space when I come back from maternity leave as I will be thinking about my baby all day!

They want me to come back to a new job and replace me permanently rather than cover me temporarily. When I said that I would prefer not to, they assumed it was because I was worried about managing a baby and a new job, but it is actually because there are personal achievements and career goals I want to attain before I move to a new role!!!

Also when I said that nothing changes from my career plan, I was told that I should wait and see because I have 'no idea about how a child changes your life' - a conversation I doubt he would have with a man! My husband will be the stay at home parent, so in fact I am more focused on my career as I need to support all of us.

By the way I work in fecking HR, so no hope for the rest of you!

Blankiefan Thu 20-Jun-13 21:49:18

Jings Chickpea - you're making my lot sound evolved! It's a bit crap for you but it makes me feel better that other people understand how I feel. smile

HR people always end up managed the worst. Be strong - don't give in!

Chickpea1983 Thu 20-Jun-13 22:55:54

The thing is, they actually think they are being thoughtful and considerate!! However their warm, fuzzy feeling is soon squashed as I tell them very directly that they are completely wrong!

SourSweets Fri 21-Jun-13 04:02:51

I wouldn't be too hard on them. It's a tricky middle ground they have to tread, If they do too little for you and something happens they could be in serious trouble (like my manager, she got a disciplinary, suspension and final warning for failing her duty of care towards me after I developed health problems) but if they do too much then they're facing discrimination allegations. I would tell them in no uncertain terms that you're capable of making your own decisions and what was right for their wives is not necessarily right for you, but be thankful that they are trying to make things easy for you. Good luck!

Flossie82 Fri 21-Jun-13 04:08:23

Will they be left in the lurch if you have to finish earlier than planned before you have handed over your projects?

soupmaker Fri 21-Jun-13 04:22:28

I'm with soursweets on this. I understand how annoying patronising attitudes towards pregnant women in work are but your employer does have a duty of care towards you and all too bloody often they forget that. I work for a trade union and you wouldn't believe some of the things some pregnant employees face from employers whose attitude is that 'they are only pregnant' and should just get on with it.

I'm expecting DC2 and just finished work at 34 weeks. At 20 weeks I'd have sworn I could keep on working until mid-July!

Good luck.

TangfasticMrFoxalastic Fri 21-Jun-13 04:35:45

Massively generalising here, but men at work in particular do seem to like bringing their wives into the conversation, I think it's a way of relating for them.

I had planned to work until 38 weeks last time, but at 37 weeks I had an overnight stay in hospital due to a false alarm, and hr chose (as within their right through policy) to start my mat leave early. I was glad as I was exhausted!

This time I'm going at 36 weeks smile maybe sooner

Sunflower1985 Fri 21-Jun-13 06:35:01

Completely sympathise. I'm in a male dominated environment and the patronising comments boil my blood. My manager took me off a big project without even discussing it with me, saying he didn't think I'd be able to be involved, based on how his wife was at that stage!
He also thought it a good idea to announce my pregnancy to the entire group, telling them I was off the project before me. I was only 20 weeks at that time!
We need more women in senior roles. Persevere.

rallytog1 Fri 21-Jun-13 08:40:45

Even if their intentions are good and you can understand where they're coming from, the way they're treating you IS discrimination.

How you choose to deal with it is up to you however and should be based on the outcome you want - while they're being (or think they're being) positive and supportive, you may find you don't get very far with them by playing the discrimination card at this stage (it can get people bristling).

It's worth more thoroughly researching your rights (I work in this area but am on mat leave and my brain is mush so my advice won't be v robust) - from places like Citizens Advice or the Equalities and Human Rights Council.

If you have a strong knowledge of your rights, it'll give you extra ammo if current friendly negotiations don't go as you want them to.

Incidentally, I have a high-pressure job with lots of travel around the country and long days. I worked until 10 days before my due date - when I went two weeks overdue I wished I'd stayed on a bit longer as I felt like I was wasting my mat leave! I'm also planning to go back to that job after 9 months. Obviously you can't account for things like going into labour early but chances are you can stick to your plans and it'll all be fine.

Good luck!

4athomeand1cooking Fri 21-Jun-13 09:09:34

With my first I worked up to the 24th and was due in the 28th in a male dominated environment.

However to put in context, I was met my many people throughout my first pregnancy who told me what I would and wouldn't be able to do - both men and women. They saw it as friendly advice.

Their experience comes from their wives. Whilst input a strong face on at work, I moaned to my Dh at home about my swollen ankles and how tired I was getting.

Unfortunately in my experience, it didn't change much once I returned to work but that's another story.

I think the men just worry about the prospect of you takin refuge in their office whilst bearing down! grin

4athomeand1cooking Fri 21-Jun-13 09:10:42

I am so sorry about my spellings. This phone changes everything.

YBR Fri 21-Jun-13 09:14:07

I work in a male-dominated environment, but not so high up (engineering design). I actually get very little of this sort of things - just a few colleagues trying to tell me what I shouldn't be eating/lifting.

I think you have to assume that they're concerned for you, and express thanks. Tell them you feel patronized, and that you'd prefer to be treated "normally". It might help them if they know that you'll tell them if/when things become difficult to the point they could assist.

From my experience with DC1 you will probably struggle towards the end if you're still away from home and working long days. Can you plan to not travel or do exceptional hours from, say 34 weeks?

HJBeans Fri 21-Jun-13 09:16:09

I have an extremely supportive female manager who has expressed similar concerns but in language I didn't find at all patronising. I suspect I relate differently to her as she's been through pregnancy herself. The way she put it when I said I planned to work through the due date and return three months after the birth to finish out my short term contract was "obviously, we want to have as much of your work as possible, but I think we need to factor in flexibility in case you change your mind or there are complications to ensure the project goals are met and the rest of the team is treated fairly - I'm not saying you will change your mind, but it's an unpredictable process and I need to plan contingencies if you leave early or don't come back." This covered the same ground as your colleagues professionally but without the assumptions about you, comparisons to other pregnancies, etc. Struck me as very good management.

In your place, I'd emphasise that you have thought through the unpredictability and possible impacts on project & team goals and made plans based on what's best for you if things go nominally. Since all pregnancies are different, you cant predict what will happen - but comparisons to other people's pregnancies aren't relevant or helpful.

gertrudestein Fri 21-Jun-13 11:26:59

It's unbelievably annoying when colleagues assume they know what you will or won't do, or how you will or won't feel. My sympathies for you, OP. Every pregnancy is different and it's your choice what you want to do. I think what (male) bosses don't realise is that their concern, even if it's well meant, is discriminatory if they are in a position of power. It takes power away from the pregnant employee, assumes that her body is public knowledge/ information and undermines her professionalism at work.

I had to give up work for health reasons at 29 weeks, although I planned to work till 38 weeks. Tbh, I might have been able to go back in the interim but the patronising attitude of my male boss, his 'observations' about the size of my boobs etc, and the fact that he brought up my pregnancy in every single bloody conversation - whether or not I knew the people he was talking to, or wanted them to know, etc - meant that I couldn't face going back.

OP, you sound very committed to work. There's no reason to believe you won't have an easy pregnancy and be able to work right up to the end. If I was back in your position now, I would be really firm with my bosses and say, 'I really appreciate your interest in my health, but this is my intention. Of course, if anything changes I will let you know as soon as possible and make sure that all my work commitments are covered, either by me or someone else in he organisation. In the meantime, and until that happens, I'd prefer not to have to address the issue again.'

parttimer79 Fri 21-Jun-13 11:38:30

I can understand that you feel patronised but if other people will be impacted by these business priorities and whether you can or can't work up until a certain date then it does not seem unreasonable to me to have a contingency plan (I love a plan almost as much as a list).

I've planned to work to 38 weeks and have a big presentation scheduled for the final week so understand the need to keep my goals in place despite pregnancy. And hopefully I'll be able to do this, I'm 33 weeks now and feeling great, better in fact than early pregnancy. But I do have plans in place with my supervisor in case as the very eloquent poster above says it goes "fuck me scary".

By law work need to make necessary adjustments and keep H&S in mind but this should be guided by you and I'm sure you can make this clear to them.

afrikat Fri 21-Jun-13 12:24:43

I have to say I am fed up with being told 'your priorities are all going to change' when I say I will be going back to work after mat leave. My DH isn't being told this!

It is hard sometimes for managers to strike the right balance (although I am v jealous of your manager hjbeans - I think I will steal that technique if any of my team ever fall pregnant!

There is another thread on here somewhere though about women in high pressured jobs who are unhappy that they are expected to carry on with stupid hours with no reasonable adjustments for their pregnancy so I would say it is good your managers are trying to make sure you are not putting yourself at risk of overdoing it, albeit they are doing it in a rather patronising way.

I think making it clear you have plans in place for dealing with unexpected complications and saying that you will ask for help if you need it, otherwise you expect the normal work load etc should hopefully clarify things to them. If not it may be worth looking at a more formal route if you feel you are being marginalised / sidelined.

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