Maternity Leave and Owning Your Own Business
By Joy Twesigye, MS, NP Women’s Health Editor
Maternity leave can be a tricky thing to negotiate. Women often think about becoming pregnant from their point of view—Where am I going to give birth? Do I want to find out the sex of the baby? When am I going to tell my friends and family?
As women in business, there are many angles in which this can hit home. You could be a solo-preneur, business partner, employee or manager of staff. Regardless of whether your business is brick and mortar or virtually based, conversations about maternity leave should at least include 1) expectations (i.e. length of leave) 2) duties to be covered (including ability/appropriateness to hire temporary staff) and 3) level of availability when on leave.
Clarity in Writing
If a business has prioritized administrative organization and has a clear human resources handbook then much of the hard decisions have already been made prior to a pregnancy. This can ease conversations between staff and business partners considerably since rules won’t seem to be made out of the blue and can provide a basis for future planning. Fixing the car while driving may be an amusing phrase– but living out the anecdote can lead to confusion, hurt feelings and potentially law breaking (http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/) if issues such as maternity leave are not made a priority to handle.
Clarity in Business Culture
Maternity leave can also potentially bring up issues of work culture that have never been addressed before. Is your business a place where flexible working options are a possibility? Can these options be available to all staff roles? The University of Chicago has created a valuable flexible work options guide that includes sample proposals and frequently asked questions about implementing various flexible work options.
Don’t be surprised if this unearths generational, organizational and personality differences.
Clarity in Planning
There are things we can plan for and things that could care less about our plans. This is why my mother was insistent that I always had a Plan A, B and C. Have you heard the story about the law student who went into labor during the bar exam, finished the test and had her baby across the street (in a hospital)?
Even my own mother has tales of trying to convince my father that she really needed to go to the hospital to have my youngest sister—but apparently seemed too calm. My sister was born while my father was parking the car (or so the story goes).
You have to plan. Both you and the business need to succeed! Do not use the excuse that you have 40 weeks to plan a maternity leave because that is just not true. Or it is technically true but is still a bad plan. Not only is there such a thing as premature labor but that strategy may be indicative of a larger avoidance tactic you are using at work which in business just doesn’t pay in the long run.
- How does your role in the business impact:
- Length of leave
- Speed of which to create a larger plan
- Pending important business deals
- Need to hire temporary staff
- What precedents are you comfortable setting in your business regarding maternity leave?
- Are you up-to-date on FMLA?
- Do you need to confer with your accountant?
- Do you need to confer with your business attorney? (If you are a solo-preneur does someone need to be added as a signatory on important documents)
- How can your business fit into a woman led economy where some of the women are parents?
I spoke to a few business women who have taken maternity leave in the last few years and while their experiences were fairly different, they all spoke about how they had to confront the issue of making their health a priority while dealing with the craziness of running a business and building a career. While the Clarity Checklist does not cover all the philosophical/practical ground you need to cover when thinking about the intersection of maternity leaves and your business—hopefully it will help maternity leave planning be a painless and potentially a health promotion endeavor for both you and the expectant parent.
If you have any tips on navigating maternity leave as a business woman please share with the MyCity4Her community!
*Nothing in this article should be considered a replacement for personalized medical advice/treatment from a health care professional. MyCity4Her does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Joy Twesigye, MS, MPP, WHNP-BC has a diverse background in health care that equals over 10 years of direct care delivery, working with government agencies/programs, public and private payers, and health care institutions. While living in Colorado, she was the Clinical Supervisor and Chief Operating Officer for a non-profit women’s health clinic and a health plan manager for Colorado’s Child Health Plan Plus. She received her undergraduate degree from Ohio Wesleyan University, masters in science from The Ohio State University and masters of public policy from Johns Hopkins University. Continuing her quest for answers, she also completed the Bighorn Leadership Program as a Health Policy Fellow and was a Paul G. Rogers Memorial Scholar with the National Coalition on Health Care. Joy is a fervent believer in social entrepreneurship and loves being at the intersection of health innovation, tech, and business. She also blogs at Pitchforks Optional.