by Nadia Ilunga
Babies and Boardrooms
We are a long way down the timeline from our pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen counterparts. Balancing motherhood and thriving careers is the new definition of being a superwoman. The reality is that as a woman our reproductive systems peak over the same time that our careers take off.
Fortunately, being pregnant no longer means that a woman has to hang up her gloves so to speak and trade the laptop in for breast pumps and nappies. On the contrary, as a woman, we are known to be expert multitaskers and during pregnancy, our abilities shine.
It is an impressive feat, one that garners respect from colleagues and fellow moms alike. However, having said that, not everyone is a fan of the working mom motion that has steadily grown in waves across the world. With many going as far as to discriminate against pregnant women in their workforce.
Let that sink in for a minute. There are persons that we rub shoulders with on the daily, be it an employer or a fellow employee, who is not taken in or at least considerate of the immense privilege and miracle that brings new life into the world. Let’s face it, they have the right to be indifferent. Armed with this daunting knowledge and the experience of colleagues who were treated as anomalies during and after their pregnancies, I entered my own pregnancy with my defenses and guards up. I did not want to have to field any unpleasantness that might inevitably be directed at me whilst dealing with my changing body and discomforts associated with growing a human. I knew that if I wanted to navigate pregnancy with some semblance of sanity, I needed to be prepared. I did my homework about my rights as a woman and mother and would like to share these tips with you:
“But, in your interview, you said you weren’t planning on having kids.” Yes, I did say that. Two years ago. My husband and I’s plans changed. I was not aware that I had to consult you. Mothers, the law is your friend. According to the South African constitution, women cannot be discriminated against or dismissed based on pregnancy and birth.
According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 1997, employers are required to provide and maintain a work environment that is safe and without risk to the health of employees. This includes risks to the reproductive health of employees. Might I add that this refers to your reproductive health whether you have had or are still planning on having kids. If your employer is not aware of this or feigns ignorance, educate them.
I still had to put up with side-eyes and the odd remarks especially when my morning sickness turned into hyperemesis gravidarum* and I was out the office more often than in, but I made sure that my work was done and this aided in a more-or-less pain-free transition. You cannot lose your job while you are away on maternity leave. Two of my colleagues were coerced into cutting their leave short and coming back to work because “they were needed” and because there was no guarantee that their job would still be available, should they not come back after two months.
It is important to remember that whilst being paid on maternity leave is up to your employers’ discretion, “The employer is obliged to hold the employee’s job open for her to return from a period of maternity leave.”( André Claassen – The Labour Guide) You cannot lose your job whilst you are away, and if you are made to feel that you might, contact the CCMA and get advice.
Pregnancy, like any other life occurrence, requires planning and preparation. Do not leave it to chance that your HR department will do best by you. Dot the I’s and cross the t’s. Refer to your employment contract if need be. Protect yourself and the future of your unborn child by educating yourself on your rights and know that you are joining a throng of millions of mothers who have found a perfect balance between their babies and the boardroom.