The relationship between women and a professional career has been through a lot of ups and downs through the years. To think that there was a time in the not so distant past where it was unthinkable for a woman to have a job or even vote, it is safe to say that women have come a long way in cementing their position as part of the workforce.
From holding key positions in global politics to managing multi-million dollar conglomerates, women have developed careers that are bringing significant change, meaning and value to the world. Whilst taking the professional world by storm, a woman’s relationship with the workplace has always and will always be affected by the matter of pregnancy.
Motherhood is an essential part of life for many women and the physical implications of pregnancy naturally interfere with the demanding, fast-paced routine of a woman with a career in almost any profession. The workplace has evolved to accommodate pregnant women in all industries yet it doesn’t take away the fact that women need to put their body and mind through the wringer.
How easy is it to juggle between career and pregnancy? Does it ever cross a woman’s mind to choose one over the other? The questions are countless and this topic will never cease to develop and morph alongside the evolving relationship of woman and career.
With The Wing’s co-founder just becoming the first visibly pregnant CEO featured on a business magazine cover, we thought it would be a good opportunity to interview some staff members here at Axios and get their own personal experience on pregnancy and career. Aliki Karmiotou, Group Head of Human Resources and Andria Papageorgiou, EverFX’s Head of Legal and Compliance, were kind enough to sit down with us and answer a few questions on the topic, giving us valuable insights and lessons.
Since both ladies are well into the late stages of their pregnancy, the answers we got are straight from the horse’s mouth and we’re happy to share them with you.
● How does it feel juggling career and pregnancy? What did you expect it to be and what does it actually feel like?
Andria: Pregnancy can often herald the gradual ramp off from leadership that many working women inevitably face in their careers. But when managed correctly, pregnancy doesn’t have to signal the end of a woman’s career. Personally, I didn’t let “pregnancy mood” get into my mind and kept acting normally, as before. After my discussions with my doctor, I convinced myself that being pregnant, does not mean that I am sick or unable to work, therefore it does not mean that I stop being focused on my career and executing my duties on a daily basis in the best way possible with the same enthusiasm and vigour I did before. My goal is to keep coming to work and keep enhancing my skills, experience and capabilities. In other words, being pregnant is definitely not the end of the world; I am a strong believer that where there is a will, there is always a way.
Since this is the first time I am pregnant, I would not say that I had any expectations, because everything is new and unknown to me, at the same time. I did not have any previous experience and it goes without saying that each woman who is going through pregnancy is different and unique having her own issues, and it’s not necessary that what happened to one pregnant woman will happen to another one. So, to answer the question, I would say that nothing has changed and everything moves the way they were moving before without any significant changes.
Aliki: Well, juggling career and pregnancy is not an easy task especially if it’s your first baby and the fear of the unknown is on your mind. At the beginning your mind plays lots of games and creates anxiety and questions such as: What if my employer doesn’t want me to come back? What if my job gets downgraded or I get sidelined? What if I can’t cope with motherhood? What if I can’t cope with being a working mother? All these will soon disappear as soon as you realize that you choose an enlightened employer and a company with a great culture who is supportive to family policies. As soon as you realize that you are living in a supportive environment both at work and at home, then everything will be settled in a magical way.
● Is the work environment critical in helping a pregnant woman be a successful professional? What can companies do to create such an environment?
Andria: When women don’t take charge of what their careers will look like during pregnancy, assumptions are made on their behalf. By assumptions, I mean that many of our colleagues or managers might reach conclusions on our behalf without any confirmation from our end. For example, avoiding asking a pregnant woman to travel to another city to attend a meeting. Some might think that a pregnant woman cannot do so because she’s pregnant but that might not be the case. It’s up to us, the pregnant women, to identify certain preconceived notions and break them down.
So, I wouldn’t say that the responsibility lies 100% with the work environment, but a significant percentage still lies with the pregnant woman on how she will handle her career during and after the pregnancy. In my case, my work environment is quite helpful because it allows pregnant women, like me, to speak up and say what they want and the most important thing is that our voice is heard and understood at all times, with no exception.
Aliki: In general, yes. Women have come a long way and the work environment has progressed accordingly, but being a woman with a career still comes with a lot of challenges in the workplace. Ideally, the conversations that we are currently championing will eventually not be necessary, because it will be understood that the workplace must support women trying to balance work and pregnancy/parenting. We need to talk more about pregnancy at work until we reach a level that such conversations will not be necessary anymore. It’s an EXCELLENT GOAL for each company who wants to create a healthy culture and support their employees.
● What advice would you give to women who are contemplating motherhood but hold back because they fear it will affect their career progression?
Andria: Hahaha, this question seemed very ironic to me the moment I read it, because I used to be one of those women who considered their job as their only baby and priority in life, and having a real baby was totally out of the question, until I met my husband and started imagining my life with him and having our own family. I’m really glad that I was able to focus on my interests solely before deciding to create my own family. I loved being able to travel, take interesting jobs, put in the long hours when I needed to build credibility and advancement potential and just be selfishly able to dream my dreams.
Now that I am pregnant, expecting my little girl, I’m focused on the possible ways to raise my little girl, inspiring her and teaching her life with a big smile on my face, showing her how positive we should be when facing life. I’ve done all the things I’ve wanted to do so far and I am looking forward to doing many more in the future, but this time with another set of fresh eyes next to me giving the best possible example.
Family and career are not mutually exclusive. You can have both and you are not missing out on your best life by choosing to do so whenever that is in your life. Life isn’t about having it all, but about finding joy in what we have. You can have the best-laid plans, but in the end, it’s your ability to ride the wave and adjust to external factors that will determine your success.
Aliki: Is it possible to have it all? Yes, it is! It is possible to have a rewarding career and a happy family. Of course, your job as a career-driven woman is to show you’re good at learning new skills—like balancing between work and family. It’s crazy to think that having children won’t shake up your life and routine but it’s okay. You can still be a great mother and a consummate professional. All it takes is will, discipline and planning.