People & Human Resources

Ten things you should stop saying to pregnant colleagues and employees

Prue Gilbert /

When I was about 20 weeks’ pregnant with my first child, one of my colleagues decided to try and predict the sex of our baby.

I am well aware that the conversation was well intentioned, but as you will see, it was unbelievably inappropriate. It went like this:

Him: “My grandmother taught me how to predict the sex of a baby. And I’m always right.”

Me: “Really?” (sceptical)

Him: “Yes. Stand up. Turn around. Ok. It’s a girl.”

Me: “How can you tell?” (Yes, I was asking myself why, especially in my capacity as general counsel of an ASX company, I was engaging.)

Him: “Because your skin has broken out and your arse is starting to spread.”

Coupled with comments from my pilates instructor that I was “the biggest pregnant woman he’d ever seen”, one might say it was just lucky I was comfortable in my own skin.

But the reality is that objectification and discriminatory comments towards pregnant women are never okay. 

Of course, through our work coaching women, we know that these comments are not isolated. Here are some others we’ve heard recently.

Ten things not to say or ask

1. Anything that groans or bemoans the fact that your employee has just told you they are pregnant;

2. Whether the pregnancy was planned or an accident;

3. Whether they would consider an abortion so they can get their job back. (Yes, I know it seems unbelievable, but it happens).

4. How long they plan to take for parental leave, as soon as they tell you they are pregnant;

5. Say you have to reduce their pay because they will be performing a different role, because they have asked for alternate duties due to health and safety concerns;

6. Comment on how big/small/round they are. Just do not comment on their appearance;

7. Tell them what work they can and can’t do now that they are pregnant;

8. Say it would not be in their best interests to apply for a promotion because it will take them away from their family;

9. Sack them;

10. Make them redundant, when you have backfilled their role with a another who has no carer responsibilities.

Ten things you can say

1. Congratulate them many, many times over for bringing another human into the world who will pay taxes to help support you in retirement;

2. Ask them how they are feeling;

3. Ask them about their professional vision;

4. Ask them how you can best support them at work;

5. Ask them how flexibility might be implemented to accommodate their needs, as well as those of the business;

6. Reassure them that their role is being replaced by a maternity leave contractor;

7. Acknowledge the transition to and from parental leave;

8. Speak up for them when they are absent, and ensure they are not invisible;

9. Ask them how they would like to remain connected to the workplace while on parental leave;

10. Remind them of their achievements and contributions, and affirm their identity as a valued member of the team.

Can’t remember any of the above? Go to number four: ask them how you can best support them at work.

This is an edited version of a piece that first appeared at Grace Papers and Women’s Agenda

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Prue Gilbert

Prue Gilbert is the founder and chief executive of Grace Papers, a digital platform for working parents to navigate career and family.

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