Submitted by crowejim on
I have a problem for which I am seeking input.
Recently, one of my INdirects was in a project kick-off meeting with several members of the HR team. He is male and everyone else in the room was female. As they were discussing project milestones and dates, he voiced a concern about the fact that the HR project leader's due date and (assumed) maternity leave would fall at a critical time during the project and he thought that it was important to take this into account during the project planning phase.
At that point the room got icy cold and it was clear that everyone else in the room was extremely upset that he had brought this up. Immediately after the meeting, the VP of HR was brought into the fray and my team member received a written reprimand from HR.
Quite frankly, he doesn't understand what he did wrong and I don't fully understand either. It sounds like a valid project concern to me. Rather than go to HR for an explanation at this time (and be labeled as "insensitive"), I thought I would first seek input here.
Male and female perspectives are welcome. I'm just looking for some measure of clarity.
There is pretty much no winning here...
I have to say in my experience there is pretty much no winning here. I had a similar thing happen to me. I work in a field with dangerous chemicals. We have very specific policies in place for at which point women who are pregnant can no longer be exposed. I instructed my directs to read the policy and come up with a plan for when they were to far along to be exposed any longer. I told them to be sure to have work that would continue to be career enhancing and develop them. I also said that if the women at any point were uncomfortable earlier in their pregnancy to let me know and lets error on the side of safety.
I was promptly reported to HR for "hating pregnant women". It was not a good situation at all and I came out the other side with my standing in the company diminished. I don't know what I could have done better either...except not have mentioned it at all. For me that was not an option because it was a safety issue that I felt morally obligated to ensure was taken care of. If you guys are not in a similar situation I would say not to touch it with a 10 foot pole because I don't think the others will act reasonably concerning it from what you described.
Couple of Thoughts
Here's my take, I've been pregnant, twice with the same employer & my kids are 20 months apart. I had 3 months of working for my company before getting pregnant the first time. I am sure this was a burden to them but they were very professional about it.
First, is this pregnancy "announced" by means of the employee herself saying "I'm pregnant!" to everyone & possibly giving dates of her intended leave? Or, are you just assuming, based on your own life experience what her plans "should" be.
Second, this strikes me as ridiculous, as in political correctness taken way too far the other way. Especially with respect to JDBrown's situation - he's trying to set an expectation of safety, not punishment. But, I digress....
I think it IS perfectly reasonable to ask what the back-up plans would be, in case of any team member's absence. In the case of a pregnancy, her plan might be to work right up to the due date & come back 10 days later. It is actually no ones business but the employee and her manager's. Again, if no dates have been announced for the leave, we can't assume any. If dates have been announced, then the question is very legitimate.
Also, we probably all know at least one family where the baby came (far) earlier than expected OR the mother changed her mind about maternity leave time. So, from a team perspective, you want to make sure everyone has a plan should someone be off work unexpectedly. Not just this woman, but all members.
I suspect the only thing this person is guilty of is foot-in-mouth disease, asking what seemed like a reasonable question but to the audience came across like "You can't do this work because you are pregnant" when the intent was "Can We do this plan if you are not at work?" It is likely there is more to the relationship between these two employees that makes the female not have trust in her co-worker.
JD is right, no one wins here because there is nothing to win. HR may have overreacted with a written reprimand, but I don't know this fellow's history either. Could be this was the last straw in a string of objectionable behaviour. The best thing to do might be to apologize for making assumptions and do better next time.
I think there is nothing wrong in asking. I also think it is no different than what could happen to anyone in the project, that is, leaving in the middle or Before the end, the diference is we know for sure it will happen with a pregnant women.
I am happy i leave in South america. We are not as "politically correct"....we can still talk about it, and can be kind and show concern to pregnant women. I was pregnant twice in the middle of big projects and i wish people would treat each other, man and women, as if we were all pregnant!
Your guy was right
The only way I can see this being a problem was if the comment was made with a tone of disrespect. And, a lot of guys don't realize they can have that very thing when addressing such a situation.
And, what he did was reasonable. I'd stand up for him.
I'd also suggest he apologize to the woman eh is pregnant. There's a cast for that, and it doesn't suggest him saying he meant well. You just say you're sorry and you regret the difficulties.
I'd do what he did.
The apology cast is great.
Never ever argue or try to defend yourself & if he finds himself in a tricky situation just have him say: "Yes you're right & I apologize"
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Underlying Relationship Issues?
Your indirect's comment seems not only reasonable, but just plain common sense. As a woman, I do wonder if perhaps there is an undercurrent of tension that you may not be aware of. Is there any chance this comment was the straw that broke the camels back? It might be worth exploring more thoroughly, so long as you tread lightly.
Thanks for the comments, everyone. I wasn't in the room and there could have been some issues with the way he said it - I don't know. I have since learned that this guy has previously been rough around the edges when it comes to his interpersonal communication style. Time for a little coaching.
We all will have family matters
This came up recently in a discussion. When someone pointed out that we'd have to consider how pregnancy might figure in when hiring to a new position, I pointed out that they took the position they have been in for the past 10+ years to relocate to care for a parent. Just about everyone will find themselves care taking at some point. More and more men are becoming the primary caretakers of their children. Our office has experienced: people taking care of aged parents, handicapped family members, raising children, bearing children, sadly burying relatives (including children) and adjusting to that change, dealing with long term and short term illness and injuries and having their house burn down. At some point, every one on the team will be in a less than top performance situation, I think that's the point to make, disruptions happen to everyone and the nice thing about pregnancy is... you usually know it's coming, and how long it's going to take.