update from the reader whose male colleagues didn’t believe she’d return from maternity leave

Remember the reader whose male colleagues kept making comments about how she wouldn’t return from maternity leave, despite her clear statements that she would be returning? Here’s her update:

I’m presently out on maternity leave, actually. But after the column, I went and spoke to my manager and told her the comments that were being made and how I didn’t appreciate them and how they were unprofessional, etc. My manager seemed to brush it off with a “well, the guys don’t seem to realize that a pregnant woman would not appreciate that” comment or two. Immediately after the meeting, in our team meeting, the comments started flying again, but she did step up and tell them to knock it off. After that, one of the guys apologized to me, saying he didn’t realize that he was really coming off as a jerk. The other seems scared to talk to me, but he also is the one that completely lacks an appropriateness filter. I did attend a work function a few weeks ago where a different colleague asked when I was returning and I stated I couldn’t remember the exact date, but it would be the first week of January. He then commented “You know, if you decide to come back, right?” (He did this a few times over the course of the event.)

So I’m going to say (sadly), not much has changed honestly… I’m sort of wondering how things will be when I return. My job involves travel, but the policy has always been to give new parents a year off of those projects as it tends to involve being away from home for 3-4 weeks at a time. However, I’ve already been asked when I will be available for travel again, and my mention of the policy was met with an attitude of disappointment. Again, this may be due to the management being used to my male coworkers, one of whom went on a 4-week trip two weeks after his child was born.

{ 57 comments… read them below }

      1. fposte*

        I agree in general, but I don’t think this one’s on the company, since this was the guy himself choosing to go on the trip when work policy allowed him not to. He doesn’t sound like somebody who’d use paid paternity leave even if the company had it, which it may indeed do.

        1. Anonymous*

          True, I doubt this is a paternity leave issue. Someone doing something like leaving for a month two weeks after having a kid for any reason other than a desperate one probably just isn’t into the idea of being a dad. I know all too well. My own dad was like this. He was gone for most of my childhood and didn’t need to be, he just liked to travel and knew my mom would hold down the fort. My dad and I don’t have a very good relationship now. Sorry, I know this is off topic but that really hit a nerve of mine.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            There are other parents who do it for different reasons. Needing to support the family, being in the military, etc. People who are issuing a blanket condemnation of this are off-base.

    1. Anonymous*

      No kidding, my thoughts exactly. I’ve seen some parents leaving their baby to the grandparents until the baby turns 5 years old, just so the parents can work full-time and bring in more money.

  1. Anonymous*

    I’d suggest the OP listen to a couple speeches by Sheryl Sandburg of Facebook. She covers how women are frequently absent from leadership positions and this kind of behavior (on the part of insensitive chauvinistic male coworkers) is a big part of the problem. The other big part of the problem is that woman often don’t push back.

    My advice is to push back…and to do it hard. If you have HR, grab them and explain that the comments and different treatment is alienating and causing you to feel uncomfortable. It’s a form of harassment and you are in a protected class. Lean into your career…not out of your career. Create boundaries and stick to them. Use the benefits at your disposal but also fight to have an equal share of the work.

    It’s awful that most women feel they have to choose between parenthood and careers but it’s an unfortunately reality that only we, as women can push back on.

    1. Anonymous*

      Fair or not she needs to understand there will be a level of resentment because everyone else is traveling and she intends to take advantage of the policy when someone else sucked it up.

      1. Nonprofiter*

        Um, wrong. A man taking a business trip right after his child is born is not “sucking it up.” It’s “he doesn’t have to be home with baby, and obvs doesn’t want to be either,” because the company has a policy in place where he isn’t required to go.

        1. VintageLydia*

          Why even have a baby if you can’t stand to be living with it 4 out of the first 6 weeks of its life? I know my personal experiences mean nothing, but of all the fathers I know, not one would willingly leave their newborn child if they didn’t have to (and coming from a military community, they rarely had a choice in the matter.)

          1. Anonymous*

            VintageLydia, amen to that. The whole absentee parent thing makes me boil! Kids aren’t dolls or accessories. They need love and attention from parents who are there for them.

        2. Anonymous*

          That’s about the most sexist thing I’ve heard. Let me tell you what men really think. They hate to have to leave their newborns just as much as mothers, but they also realize it’s in their best financial interest to go.

          1. fposte*

            Some men, sure. Some men, like some women, wouldn’t mind getting the hell out for a few weeks. We don’t actually know what went on with this particular guy.

          2. Nonprofiter*

            I think the point of the policy in this woman’s workplace is that’s how you remove the “financial interest” part: you don’t require that part of the job be done. If it really does affect how you’re viewed in her workplace then she needs to go to HR with it.

            1. Anonymous*

              Hah, it was quite sexist, but not the worst. If you want to see some pretty bad sexism against male parents, just turn on… Well, any sitcom ever produced in the last 20 years.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Let’s not get into judging other people’s parenting choices. Some people (women included) do go on business trips soon after a baby is born; I know a couple of women who did it. It doesn’t mean they love their baby any less.

          1. Cruella*

            I agree! I’d move heaven and earth for my children. But don’t judge me because sometimes work has to come first.

            Ivanka Trump only took 2 weeks maternity leave. She said she had a business to run.

          2. Jamie*

            Amen. People should all make the choices that work for their situation. What works for me could be a nightmare for someone else.

            And sometimes a parent has to spend more time working than they would like because it’s in the long term financial interests of their families.

            When I was a stay at home mom I felt guilty for not bringing home any income. I was acutely aware of how much I wasn’t bringing in.

            When I joined the work force when my kids were older I traded that guilt for the guilt of not being home as much as I would like.

            Sometimes you just have to make the choices for the greater good and know there is no such thing as “having it all.” Well, you can have it all – but not at the same time.

            You’d think we’d have evolved beyond judging each other for making necessary and sometimes gut wrenching choices.

      2. Nonprofiter*

        And how is that “taking advantage” of a policy? Are you taking advantage of a policy that you get an hour for lunch by going to lunch for an hour? Sexist, indeed.

        1. Jamie*

          Unfortunately, there are some managers who do consider those who take a lunch every day for the allotted time to be “taking advantage.”

          They need to knock it off.

        2. fposte*

          That’s also not necessarily a pejorative phrase–it can mean simply beneficial usage (I’m taking advantage of the holiday quiet time to clean my office. Ha!).

    2. Steve*

      Regarding the first anonymous posting, I think you are making a mistake here and conflating some specific legal terms.

      The OP is not a member of a protected class any more than anyone else is. “Gender” is however a federally protected class but most people have gender. I have no objection with your characterizing the treatment the OP received as “alienating” and causing “discomfort” however those terms are not part of the definition of legal harassment. Calling it harassment (which does have a specific legal definition) when it is not present is harmful to everyone including the person making the claim.

      It seems to me that we have an organization with a male oriented culture and people who are genuinely clueless to the point of being offensive regarding the legitimate choices people make in the workforce. The best way to educate them is to demonstrate that their stereotypes are narrow and outmoded. Lecturing to them or attempting to call in the organizational structure to do so will only be counterproductive.

        1. Steve*

          There are approximately seven recognized classes under federal law. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended Title Seven to include pregnancy as a part of Gender discrimination, but Pregnancy it is not of itself considered to be a specific protected class. The provisions of this act primarily bind employers and require medical and insurance coverage for Pregnancy and Pregnancy related conditions.

          That said, I am pretty sure that if there were behaviors that rose to the level of a hostile work environment you’d be safe in holding the employer accountable if they failed to stop it. What I was responding to was the advice to “grab” HR and inform them you are in a protected class and that you have been harassed. I don’t see that as being good advice in this situation although there are other circumstances where it might be.

          (says the man who is in two protected classes. Just today had a 35 yo woman tell me I was too weak to lift a table when we were setting up for a holiday party. She said “weak” but I knew it was a euphemism for “old”)

  2. Cruella*

    My grandmother had 12 children and was back out in the field within a week after most of them. Why? Because according to the doctor, her feet couldn’t hit the floor for a week and then she had to get back in the field or they couldn’t bring the crops in.

    I had to hear that story each time when I was pregnant with my oldest two.

    So glad times have changed.

    1. Anonymous*

      What is your point here? I don’t think she did that as a badge of pride; she did it because she had no other option. I prefer to live in a society where families have recovery and bonding time after birth and it is something that is encouraged and embraced. There are some things more important than the office.

        1. Anonymous*

          Oh come now, you should listen to what everyone else is saying. If you can’t get a break from your previous job responsibilites, you should instantly quit your job and critically endanger the financial future of your family! You’ll lose financial security and jeopordize the future of your family but… Hey, who cares!

          Seriously, it’s like people are advocating that people that hold certain jobs just shouldn’t have children at all, because they’re heartless assholes. It’s like saying the poor shouldn’t breed because they wouldn’t be capable of caring for the child at the standard you believe in.

      1. Anonymous*

        We have paid maternity and paternity leave in the UK too: it’s not so generous admittedly, but women are entitled to up to a year off, with 6 weeks at 90% of pay, then 33 weeks at a statutory amount (just under £130 per week) or 90% of earnings, whichever is lower – good organisations give enhanced pay, although this is sometimes linked to returning for a specific amount of time. Paternity leave is less generous, with 2 weeks at the statutory amount, but fathers can take the leave the mothers didn’t up to a max of 26 weeks. Adopters also get statutory time off and pay.

        1. Joey*

          Interrsting that you characterize it as not that generous. Being in the US I’m sure most Americans would consider that very generous. I’m interested to hear what you consider generous in the UK or is it just the enhanced pay part?

          1. fposte*

            Presumably compared to the Norwegian policy linked to before that–46 weeks at 100% pay or 56 weeks at 80%.

            In general, UK leave policies are more generous than US but less than many European countries.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m in Denmark and we have a similar deal – I have a bunch of American friends, who came to work here and then decided to have their kids here and only go back to the US, when the kids are older. Dad gets paid paternity leave as well (most of my friends, who are dads, took a month when mum started working again).

  3. Eric*

    Speaking of policy, why is it that companies write policy, then ask you to break it and get disappointed when you mention the policy?

  4. Liz T*

    Man, I can imagine someone thoughtlessly saying that once…but every time the subject comes up? Am I allowed to say “douchebag” in this forum? If not I apologize but suspect you’ll understand my reasons.

      1. khilde*

        I must admit that the word “douchebag” has entered into my vernacular as a direct result of reading this blog! I never would have used that word before, but after seeing it used so wonderfully and descriptively, it really fits the bill on some occassions.

  5. Liz T*

    Oh wow, this just reminded me of a few years ago when I had a bunch of guy friends who would talk disparagingly about “fat” people (usually specific people, at our college). My lady friends privately agreed that they hated it, but had never said anything. Shortly after that, when one of these friends did it again, I reflexively said, “Every time you talk about fat people, I like you less.” We spread the word (more politely) to the other guys, and they stopped (in our presence at least).

    So, try that?

  6. M*

    I feel for this woman. She wasn’t layed off or fired and didn’t quit. She had a baby. Totally normal and very necessary. (After all, that’s a future tax payer, consumer, etc.) And yet she is being treated as an unserious, non-committed, second-class employee. As far as companies have come, there is still a stigma attached to working mothers.

    1. fposte*

      I do wonder if some people (like the guy she quotes at the end) are actually trying to be nice by not making assumptions about her plans. That doesn’t get them off the hook, but it makes me a little less stabby and a little more eye-rolly.

    2. Joey*

      You have to admit there can be some truth to those stigmas. Moms (or dads) that can’t meet a work expectation because of their kids have to understand that there are normally going to be negative consequences. It has nothing to do with being a parent, its all about the results. And being a parent doesn’t give you a right to different set of expectations. Something has to be sacrificed if there’s a conflict.

      1. Liz T*

        There’s some truth to most stigmas. ALL people who can’t meet a work expectation have to understand the consequences–the problem is assuming that moms won’t meet the expectations they set, and repeating that assumption over, and over, and over, despite objections. So, in this particular situation, I don’t think we have to admit it at all.

      2. Jaime*

        I agree and disagree.

        Results, productivity, the bottom line … all of these are important and should be important in business. But we’re all people and most people have children. In fact, the continuation of the human race (yes, not an issue I know) depends on at least some people having children. Structuring your business so you can weather the absences when people are sick or pregnant or new parents or helping sick relatives or mentally ill is simply pragmatic. It’s massively more difficult in small businesses with very few employees, but even in large, multinational corporations who can survive just fine on any given day when their people are dealing with life’s issues do not do enough in arena.

        So yes, having people gone on maternity or paternity leave can have a negative effect on the business but so can long convalescences from cancer or heart surgery. It’s life. Otherwise good employees with good attendance, productivity and success should not be penalized for living their lives.

        1. fposte*

          Sure, but US law doesn’t give people any more for cancer convalescence than they do for pregnancy and family leave, so I’m not sure that’s a great comparison.

          1. Jaime*

            Actually, I think it is (or can be) covered under short-term disability but I don’t know for sure. I just meant that things happen in people’s lives that aren’t fun for a company to deal with but that happen because we’re all people – not automatons.

            1. fposte*

              Short-term disability insurance is a method of pay, not a job protection. FMLA, which is what protects the job (and has nothing to do with pay), doesn’t give any longer to cancer and heart disease than to pregnancy.

              However, I agree it sucks to risk losing your job because of being ill.

        2. Anonymous*

          OP here. Ironically, I got a call from a coworker within another department that I have to work closely with quite often, and he demanded to know when I’d be returning. It seems that despite wrapping up 95% of my work, and leaving explicit instructions (written up and distributed months before I left), the two people that are covering my work are apparently making a mess of things and everyone is eager for my return. I do wonder if my boss’s push for me to travel is from a standpoint of knowing that I can knock out the work quickly, efficient and *correctly* rather than a desire to violate policies. Regardless, I’m sticking to my guns. My performance review is the week I get back, so I’m very curious to see how it shakes out.

  7. DivaDivine*

    It doesn’t sound to me like she took any of the advice given to her in the initial post and instead went her own route. So no surprise there that the results were lackluster.

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