The Vagenda

Here’s How I Know That A Baby Will Cost Me My Promotion


I hit 27 and my womb woke up.  All sorts of words and objects have sudden new meanings: cycle, thermometers, folic acid, sex. And I actually want to talk about them in a ‘baby’ kind of way. 

My poor boyfriend has had to watch my ‘sad unfertilised egg’ routine three months in a row, and I’m not joking. I know I’m not helping the feminist cause with these hysterics, but it’s true. My mum was exactly the same; 26 years and 11 months and babies were like, whatever – but one month later, BROODINESS ALERT! Nowadays, I’m genuinely concerned my IUD will be disarmed by my womb’s super-sized appetite for sperm.

It’s OK, though – I’m actually quite excited by it. The aforementioned poor boyfriend is happy to inseminate me when the time’s right; we’ve talked it through. And somehow, the years of repulsion and ‘vom’ remarks about vaginal birth have transformed into excitement at splitting myself in two and welcoming a brand new person into the world. 

So far, so sickeningly hunky-dory, right?

But there’s a problem, and it isn’t with me and my turbocharged uterus.

It’s that my boss took me out for lunch last week, dangled a “supersonic promotion” in front of me, and then said in an oh-so-nonchalant manner, “But are you going to have a baby soon?” 

Arsehole, I hear you cry. Yes! – especially as the sphincter in question is female herself. But sisterhood stops at the office door, apparently. I’ve climbed the corporate rungs and she wants to check that I’m not about to slide back down by doing the dirty and, you know, continuing the human race and whatnot. Sure, this is sexist bullshit, but I have another problem with it too: it’s fucking personal. Did I enquire about her bowel movements? No. Has she asked how the colony of candida albicans in my pants is doing? No (itchy). So don’t ask me what my plans are for my fucking ovaries, unless you want to share tips on the perfect angle for fertilisation. Sorry, my turbocharged uterus wrote that last part.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, apparently, that a woman of child-bearing age and in a loving relationship is a corporate liability. The more I hear about the Machiavellian planning undertaken to avoid bosses’ pregnancy antennae, the more incensed I get. One friend has figured out a four month window in 2015 when she can conceive: it means her maternity leave will fall in between promotions and she can keep on climbing right after she pops. Another already-pregnant acquaintance is working 60 hour weeks to maintain her chances of making partner by 35. A colleague cried for hours after the little blue line appeared because she was terrified of telling our boss. It’s snakes and ladders for a woman out there, and it’s not helped by other women feeding the snakes. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve overheard women talking admiringly of those who’ve carried on clutching their smartphones in the stirrups. New policies like shared parental leave, effective from April 2015, won’t address this cultural crap; it’s up to us, and especially any bosses-with-vaginas out there reading this.  

Earlier this year, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg published a book called Lean In, essentially a guide for women who want to succeed in business. She says we’ve got to ‘take our place at the table’ and not be afraid of aiming high. She reckons that aside from the institutionalised, sexist bullshit which means that only 21% of senior management roles are held by women globally, part of the problem is women’s ‘internal voices’ telling them they can’t succeed. I can’t help but think that we’re right back to Eve and her goddamn penchant for apples here, aren’t we – the 21% is being dumped right on our front doorsteps like a stinking social turd.

But here’s a stark truth for you, Sheryl, and I doubt I’m alone in this: my internal voice says I can succeed. I can go all the way to the top or near enough. I can be ‘the boss’ by name. I can interrogate my female underlings about their plans for their ovaries. But guess what? I’ve got better things to do than play snakes and ladders. That game’s for kids. 

As I look at my 2014 calendar for the umpteenth time, and do the conception maths of months and weeks and maternity rights, I’ve given up caring what the answer is. I’m not going to slip off my engagement ring for interviews, or lie to a boss who should be on my side, or mechanically plan the most precious act of my life in accordance with when Project X ends and Project Y begins. I think I’m better than that – and I think we need a system better than that, too. 

9 thoughts on “Here’s How I Know That A Baby Will Cost Me My Promotion

  1. Some people live to work, and that’s fine and dandy for them. My boss, for example. All well and good for her. But some of us work to live – the bits outside of work are more important than the bits inside it. That doesn’t make a person a failure – just someone with a different set of priorities.

    I have definitely noticed a less supportive undercurrent since getting engaged – mind you, I’ve also grown less and less tolerant of the expectation that work trumps everything else, so that’s probably not helping much either…

  2. There is a system better than that – the law. Under the Equality Act sex discrimination is prohibited, along with discrimination on the grounds of marital status and pregnancy/maternity. Threatening the loss of a promotion based on any plans you have to take maternity leave is illegal, and it’s the sort of behaviour that will continue if you prioritise writing articles complaining about it over confronting the perpetrator.

  3. The difficulty is proving that any discrimination has taken place – as with other forms of discrimination that have been outlawed, unscrupulous bosses will now try more subtle ways to undermine people (like loaded questions at informal lunches). I would advise keeping a written record of any other incidences like this, in case it does ever have to come to an employment tribunal.

    Also, if having a family is your priority now, perhaps it would be better to look for another job at a more enlightened firm if you want to avoid this kind of under-the-table bullying in future?

  4. But how often is it made so clear? Rarely, in my experience. And never, of course, anything in writing. It’s all sidelong glances, maybe the odd throwaway remark – but try proving anything, and see what you get. And try getting another job afterwards too.

    And so the bastards triumph.

  5. Re subtle ways to undermine – so true – one of my favourites is being asked about my ‘five year plan’ in my annual review. The requirement is to be ambitious – work are going to be none too happy when I say it’s only a four year plan because I’ll be on maternity for a year.

  6. I have just returned to my job after maternity leave which my male boss refers to far too frequently as my ‘year off’. Implying that i lay on a beach for a year having a wonderful holiday whilst the rest of them had to work. Its maternity leave, not a holiday asshole. And its far harder than any job i ever had.
    So frustrating. And so sad. When will this attitude ever change?

  7. I’m on the opposite side of the coin – I have absolutely no intention of ever having children, ever, and yet I fear that I could still be left out for jobs and promotions because I am just reaching “that point in life” where women tend to have children – I am nearly 23 and in a stable relationship of over 4 years. The thing is, whenever I tell anyone I don’t want children I am always told “you don’t know yet” or “that will change when you get older” – NO! I am entirely sure that I don’t want children and I don’t appreciate being told that I don’t know my own mind.

    Even if it did change though – so what? Nobody tells a newly-wed couple “you don’t know that you want to spend the rest of your life together” or “things will change and you’ll divorce, you’ll see”.

  8. When I was in my twenties, I would say the same thing and people always gave me the “you will see – you will change” speech, so I know just where you are coming from. It is frustrating to think of the promotions I might have been passed up for, because of my potentially fertile womb. I have long considered getting my tubes tied and provide a certificate to any employer that would have me, if it were not such a creepy proposition. It truly is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t world of work for us young ladies.

    Somehow, now that I am in my early 30s, people stop questioning my choice. Whatever your choice is, I am sure with time people will start taking your position on the matter more seriously, and see that you mean this. Keep your head up :)