How to hold down a full-time career, get a graduate degree, participate in a social/charity group, and grow a fetus in your uterus all at the same time. The working woman's guide to pregnancy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Work Situation

I billed this blog as a "working woman's guide to pregnancy"...and yet I've been nearly silent on my maternity leave discussions and plans. This is because I've heard too many stories about people getting fired or in trouble for saying things about their office or employers on their personal blogs. So, I wanted to make sure everything was on the up and up before I took it online.

A bit of background...

I have been working at the same, wonderful public relations firm since 1999. Very few people in PR stay at the same place for a long time (two to three years seems like the average term). I have been incredibly loyal to the firm, because they have been incredibly loyal and supportive of me. I could definitely see myself here for the long-haul.

I also started graduate school (part-time, night class) last June. This decision was supported by my boss.

Then I got pregnant.

Okay, so I have the potential of making a beautiful life collage, using three main elements: motherhood, career, and academia. But am I a talented enough artist to do all three at once? My answer is probably not...and that if I tried I'd probably also be short-changing my roles as a wife and friend.

So I approached my bosses in January about this dilemma, and asked for their reaction to the following plan: that I take a leave of absence when the baby arrives that spans from delivery through the completion of my master's degree. That way I'd be home with the baby during the day and continue taking classes at night. With five courses left (one of which is a thesis), I projected I could return by January or May 2008, depending on my ability to juggle school and new motherhood.

Over the last two months, we have had dozens more conversations about the "plan." In short, they understand what I want (or think I want) to do... but it is inconvenient and undesirable for them. They say.... How about part-time starting in September? What if a big proposal opportunity comes through the door? Can we bid you in? Would you be able to work on an hourly basis on proposals? My answer to all of these questions had to be a "maybe," since I just don't really know what lies ahead.

Our firm's maternity leave policy is four weeks of paid leave with up to two additional weeks where you can use vacation or sick leave. We do not have a policy for leave of absence. So this is why I now have a letter of termination in my file.

So on April 14, I will technically no longer be employed. Anywhere. Weird. Do I worry that I won't be able to get a job back at the firm? No. Not really. But it is weird to think about.

I feel fortunate that I work in an agency...which has a revolving base of clients and projects anyway. My job changes on a regular basis anyway, so it won't be the biggest deal that it will undoubtedly be different when I get back. New project, new client...probably new team. C'est la vie.

But as great of a firm as it as--and as progressive and friendly my bosses are--this hasn't exactly been the easiest of negotiations. I really feel for the moms who've had to make impossible situations work out, simply because the options aren't there. It goes to show, we still really haven't figured out this "women in the workplace" thing.


Shanley said...

It's an interesting risk they took, since there's no guarantee that you won't go to a competitor when you return to work (or is there? do you have a non-compete?). Though we know that you won't - you love where you work so much (and I for one am jealous, yes).

I think that the advantage to you in this situation is that they do need to regard you competitively when you return and not ding your compensation package (or otherwise mommy-track you) for being gone, because surely someone else could make you a very attractive offer to go elsewhere. If you had an official LOA with terms, then it might be easier to take advantage, decrease salary, etc. Not that your company would do that.

I hate to sound too callous or capitalist about this, but I believe that things will always work out well for the strongest performers, and others will have more difficulty. You worked very hard to be a superstar up until now, and though this wasn't the easiest process to work through, you do have so many more options than others appear to have. You negotiated well, but you had a good hand - your years of great performance and value to your company.

Though it is weird to be terminated.

However, there is fun to it also... I was updating Mr D on the goings on last week while he was away, and I casually threw out that you lost your job... the reaction was priceless. Then I explained the back story.

p.s. Can we get a Krusty update? Is he accepting visitors?

Shanley said...

p.p.s. I hope that my opinions are ok with your work peeps. Feel free to censor me. I honestly love your company too, even though I don't work there. It's a wonderful, cheery office with fantastic people, and any place with a nap room is beyond awesome.

Kathryn said...

Wow. I'm sorry, since I know that this will bug the type-a in you, as it would in me. And Shanley has a great point -- I would never let such a star performer walk away when her maternity leave would be hidden, CV-wise, by a master's degree. That said, I've worked for a company that put people before policy -- and it just DOESN'T work. It always ends poorly for everyone, even the person who got a 'break,' because it messes up relationships with peers, makes fuzzy job titles/roles and otherwise negates the common goal -- being the best firm at what you do, not being a team of friends. So I feel for you, I feel for them -- and I really wish they had an on-ramp, off-ramp program like the ones the NYT profiled this week at major accounting firms. Who knows, maybe you'll inspire one!

DarcyLaine said...

Thanks, Shanley and Kathryn, for your thoughtful comments (absolutely no need for censorship). As two career women yourselves, I know you have a vested interest in thinking about balancing a career and family.

I completely respect the fine line my firm is walking with this-- yes, they want to keep me and recognize that more time away may lead to fading loyalty (or interest in other opportunities); and yet, as Kate said, people before policy is also problematic.

Ultimately, I'm getting what I want, but without any of the easy short-cut terminology (can't really say maternity leave, and can't say leave of absence). "Termination" is just the only word that they have to describe what I'm doing. The rest of the letter kindly apologizes for the callousness of the term (as did my bosses after I received it).

I doubt they will mommy-track me. This is really not a concern. In fact, I think I'm in a good position to "negotiate up" when I return. The truth is that I could probably make a lot more money if I switched jobs/firms in 2008, and they know that (the reason so many people move around in PR is that's how you get the big salary jumps).

Ultimately, I'm very lucky and very happy with how everything went...but did want to demonstrate how tricky this whole thing can be, even in the best of work environments. Even female business owners--who are moms themselves--can't help but think of births and child-rearing as major inconveniences.

Shanley said...

Yup, I've definitely been interested to see how much is feasible to juggle at once... I hope that school and new baby is a good combination, as it definitely seems like a great way to overcome any concern employers have about losing skills while you're away. That idea is one that I may copy if the situation arises.

Chrissy said...

School districts are used to us pregnant chicks so while I may not be considered as much as a "career woman" as you lovely ladies of Letts 3N, I had a very positive experience on maternity leave and very supportive on my return. Maybe you should all turn to the teaching career.

twolinesonastick said...

Interesting situation all around... my background is actually PR/marketing... however I left my (barely beginning) career to become a part-time nanny. I have a nearly six month unpaid maternity leave, which began last week. When I go back in the fall, I can bring the baby. Will I go back? Who knows. It's interesting to hear stories from the other side of the fence, though. And also comforting to hear from other moms-to-be who aren't sure what they want, but think they know :)

gs said...

I commend you for having the guts to state your desires to your company and then follow through. Not everyone can do that. It's a matter of priorities and right now, of course, your top priority is the important job of giving birth and then nurturing and enjoying the time spent with this new little one. Career and education are in second place according to the law of motherhood. There's always time for the latter two and I'm sure, like Shanley said, that it will all work out for've done your homework in preparing for this.

Not being certain of how the future will play out is's good to have your options open. When you're ready for the next step, it will be there for you and knowing you, it will only be better.