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How Southeast Asian Entrepreneurs Can Support Pregnant Employees

First time to handle a pregnant member of your team? Here are tips from those who’ve been there

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BY Melissa G. Bagamasbad - 30 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Having a child is one of the most joyous moments in a woman’s life. However, juggling motherhood and career isn’t always the easiest. For employers and colleagues who may not have direct experience with expecting women in the workplace, this can be a tricky area to navigate.

A recent Workplace Discrimination Survey by the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) in Malaysia has found that more than 40% of women surveyed have experienced job discrimination due to their pregnancy. Some of the ways that women were discriminated against include “making their positions redundant, denying them promotions, placing them on prolonged probation, demoting them, and firing them.”

In Southeast Asia, most countries have 90 days maternity leave. Other countries like the United States also have measures that prevent discrimination against expecting women in the workplace.

Below are some ways you as an employer or officemate can increase positivity at work and care for the wellbeing of pregnant women in your offices:

1.Keep in mind that pregnancy isn’t a bummer

It’s important that supervisors are supportive of their pregnant employees, Miguel Valdez, president and founder of Vanguard Assessments, says.

"Oftentimes companies, (especially small ones, where resources are stark) will view pregnancy as a burden. Some are even reluctant to hire women for that reason, especially married women of childbearing age. Don't be that company. You'll only do yourself a disservice and miss out on amazing talent," writes Christine Tsai, a partner at 500 Startups, in her article about her experience as a mom.

2. Discuss protocol and rules beforehand

“It’s really just planning and changing the type of work they do to [something through] which they are still able to contribute in an effective and relevant way,” says Valdez. For example, Valdez discussed the various types of responsibilities that change or are added when they initiate the work at home policy. “They are encouraged to come in early but leave early to avoid traffic,” he says. “Or come in half day.”

“The pregnancy experience varies from woman to woman so it would be good if the supervisor or an HR officer can sit with the women to discuss her needs so that they can be accommodated when possible and most importantly, make the woman feel that her pregnancy is accepted and respected by the organization,” says Yen Blanco-Delgado, a marketing manager from Manila.

One of the considerations experienced by Hanni Sofia, a journalist from Jakarta, included being allowed to work only indoors due to her pregnancy.

3. Expect lifestyle changes from your pregnant employee or officemate

Lots of physical changes happen to women’s bodies during pregnancy. Delgado says that her officemates were considerate enough to adjust to her needs, and they did this by allowing her more bathroom breaks. “A difficult time for me was after I gave birth and I had to express milk while I was at work,” she says. “There was no special area for this so I did it in the comfort room which is terrible when you come to think about it.” She adds that she also needed to put expressed milk in bottles inside the refrigerator. Some officemates, she says, seemed to have been uncomfortable with it. Delgado says it is recommended that pregnant women be allowed to have lifestyle changes such as more restroom breaks and, if possible, a private area for breastfeeding.

For Valdez, the late shield he granted to pregnant employees excused their tardiness due to morning sickness. “Most of the time, the women experience morning sickness and they are basically helpless in the morning,” he says. “I don’t deduct when they are late as long as they inform me that they are experiencing morning sickness.”

4. Encourage them to be as honest and transparent

“I tell them to be honest with me and not make decisions out of utang na loob (debt of gratitude) or hiya (shame) [for me as a boss],” says Valdez. For example, he tells them to work more at home if they feel guilty and to stay in the safety of their room. “Because their safety and the babies’ safety are top priority.”

5. Have suitable facilities in your workplace for pregnant women or new mothers

Delgado recalls how “extremely uncomfortable” it was for her to breastfeed in the ladies’ room because there was nowhere else. “And I had to hurry because I shared the bathroom with about six other people in the office,” she says. “I believe that concessions for pregnant women have to be institutionalized,” she says. “Work places should have special areas for breastfeeding and expressing milk. I’m not sure if this has already been made into law but I know for sure that majority of work places where I live do not have this facility.”