Talia Goldstein, CEO of matchmaking company Three Day Rule, says she hid her pregnancy because she feared workplace discrimination. (Facebook/Talia Goldstein)
Despite our cultural obsession with pregnancy, starting a family can be a step backward for many working women.
There’s no better example than CEO Talia Goldstein. The founder of the matchmaking startup Three Day Rule recently published an essay in Fortune about how she had hidden her pregnancy at work. In it, she included part of a diary entry that she wrote while pregnant with her first child, in 2012. “While I am happy about having a child,” she had written, “I feel ashamed for getting pregnant because my industry looks down on it.”
Goldstein expounded on her anxiety that investors wouldn’t take her fundraising efforts seriously, substantiated by a colleague who proclaimed, “A pregnant CEO/founder is going to fail her company.” Although Goldstein had an impressive résumé — a former producer at E! Entertainment, a member of a prestigious tech incubator program, and a contestant on ABC’s Shark Tank — she routinely heard co-workers express the belief that expanding a family would diminish a woman’s career prospects. Examples: “It’s a huge red flag when the founder of a company is pregnant” and “Honestly, I’d never invest in a company with a pregnant CEO.”
So, the L.A.-based businesswoman made a decision: She would hide her pregnancy from the world — friends, colleagues, even her business partner — to avoid alienating investors. That meant wearing bulky trench coats to pitch meetings in 80-degree weather. “I must have looked ridiculous,” she wrote. “But I knew that I had a better chance of raising money looking ridiculous than I would looking pregnant.”
Despite her challenges, Goldstein, the mother of a son named Max, has partnered with Match.com and launched her company in six cities. Now, expecting again, Goldstein is determined to approach her second pregnancy with confidence. Nearly all of her employees are women, and while she says that “pregnant women just don’t exist in this startup world,” she’s determined to even the playing field for women who are too scared to start a family in her industry.
While it’s been illegal to discriminate against pregnant women in the workplace since the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 — which was bolstered by a recent Supreme Court decision involving discrimination against a pregnant UPS employee — studies show that motherhood is not the fastest route to career success. “If you look at median wages for full-time earners, it’s higher for fathers than it is for mothers,” Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women & Families in Washington, D.C., tells Yahoo Parenting. “Creating a life is a public good, but [for women] it’s often a personal liability.”
One Cornell University study found that mothers are viewed as less competent and committed than fathers, despite evidence that moms outperform their childless counterparts, particularly when they have two children (although it’s worth noting that the study included highly educated women with the resources to employ child care).
And while the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EOEC) updated its guidelines in 2014 to state that employers can’t fire, refuse to hire, or demote a woman based on pregnancy, the rules are often murky on the ground.
“I hid my pregnancy at work until my third trimester — thankfully, my bump wasn’t that big,” a New York City-based copywriter (who wished to remain nameless) tells Yahoo Parenting. “I was a contractor, and I worried that pregnancy would cloud all my other attributes, despite working at a female-dominated company that made products for women.” She adds, “Once, in the bathroom, my co-worker heard me throwing up from morning sickness, and I pretended I’d had a late night. I figured it was better to be hung-over at work than pregnant.”
And a Los Angeles-based psychologist (who also declined to provide her name) waited until her second trimester to tell her employer that she was expecting. “I had just been hired into a tenured university position, and I was worried people would question my competency to take on new responsibilities,” she tells Yahoo Parenting.
According to Jennifer Owens, editorial director of Working Mother Research Institute, women should know their rights in regard to pregnancy discrimination. “To be well informed is to be well armed,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “Only 40 percent of companies are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act,” she says. “If you’re pregnant, be upbeat and proactive when announcing your leave — say, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”
And stories like Goldstein’s and that of Katherine Zaleski, president of PowerToFly, who wrote a viral essay in Fortune apologizing to working moms for how she treated them before she herself got pregnant, are important to hear. “Let’s all learn from each other,” says Owens. “If we realize early on that life is complex, we’ll all have it better.”