America is changing. That’s a bold statement, I know, and I realize I say it from a place of extraordinary privilege—a white woman in a senior leadership role at a desk job with a supportive husband whose flexible hours as a photographer makes my career possible. But I also say that as someone who recognizes that as a woman, it is sometimes hard to give yourself the permission to not only ask for change, but to embrace it when it comes.
I am 24 weeks pregnant. I have always bought into the insidious and unwritten rule that one does not look for work while pregnant, assuming no one would willingly hire a pregnant woman, particularly one nearing the end of her second trimester. That is a faulty assumption; I have just become the new Director of Creative Operations for sweetgreen, a dynamic company in the food industry that I can say with full confidence truly and genuinely values its employees in ways that the rest of corporate America should take note of.
Change, while slow and never enough, should always be honored and spoken of when present. In the words of my friend Kate Morrison Schermers, who wrote about being hired as Director of Production at 72andSunny while pregnant, my hope is that “by talking about what normal should be and socializing this information, we can help make this sort of story much less the exception and much more the rule. Because quite frankly, I can still do my job perfectly well while growing a child. And so can any other woman out there.”
This is the second job I’ve been offered over the course of two pregnancies. Four years ago, while pregnant with my first child, I was offered the role of Global Production Lead at Airbnb. Though my emotional baggage around being offered that job was similar, the circumstances were different. I was newly married, freshly returned from my honeymoon and living in Brooklyn when they called to ask if I would go to San Francisco for an in-person interview. I did not at the time know I was pregnant.
When I walked into their large, light-filled expanse of a building, I was awestruck and energized by the vibrance of that company. I spent the day in back-to-back meetings, presenting slideshows I’d put together on my production history and ambitions for the role. I was very familiar with Airbnb, having known many people who’d worked there, and felt incredibly invested in making a worthy impression. I wanted the job. Badly.
Over the next couple of weeks as talks progressed, I started connecting some dots in my personal life. I’d been experiencing repeated bouts of nausea. I’d missed my period. I recalled being uncharacteristically moody and tired on my honeymoon.
When Airbnb emailed to tell me the job was mine, I cried with the awareness that I’d been blessed with the two things I wanted most: my dream job and my dream of a family. I cried because I believed these things could not co-exist, at least not on the same timeline.
I thanked them for the offer and dismissed myself from the running, saying that after much thought, my husband and I had decided we weren’t prepared to relocate to San Francisco. This was the truth, but certainly not the whole truth.
They, however, came back with solutions. They would move us to LA, which I’d earlier mentioned we were open to. It would be an adjustment period. I could commute to their HQ every other week and work the rest of the time from home. I could do this for a year, at which point I would need to commit to relocating to San Francisco. It was an exceedingly generous offer and one I could not come back to with a subpar response.
“I’m sorry,” I finally confessed, falling into the apologetic trap women repeatedly find themselves in. “The thing is, I’m pregnant.” I was relieved speaking these words. While I knew the law was on my side as far as discrimination was concerned, I didn’t want to fight for a job that didn’t want the pregnant me, or one that might make my first experience of motherhood a stressful one. I figured the conversation would end, but my conscience would be clear.
“Congratulations!” they said. “We have a great parental leave policy.” And they did. As a new mom, I could take up to 22 paid weeks off and would qualify for leave after only 60 days of employment, which was well before I was due to give birth. I was taken aback by their response. They’d seen my worth to their company in ways that far surpassed my reproductive status.
In the end, I did not take the job. Not because I didn’t want it, I did, but because the original reason—that we were not prepared to relocate to San Francisco—became more intensely relevant and true once we knew we were going to be parents.
A year-and-a-half ago, we moved from New York to Los Angeles so that our daughter could be close to our families. We didn’t know how it would work professionally, but the move was a no brainer; she has eight cousins, three aunts, three uncles and a set of grandparents in and around LA. She sees most of them weekly, if not daily.
As freelancers, my husband and I were both fortunate enough to find work quickly. When I started talking to sweetgreen at the end of 2018, it was a loose conversation, a getting to know you sorts. I’d been referred to them in their search to fill roles at the company but they didn’t have anything that seemed like a direct fit for me, and I wasn’t looking for a full-time job.
Then, in February 2019, after discovering I was pregnant with our second daughter, they called to ask if I’d freelance on the development and production of their first ad campaign. I was delighted. As a New Yorker, I’d been a longtime fan of the company and was honored to work with their leadership on what I knew was an important and new venture.
I hit the 12-week mark of my pregnancy within my first month on the job. Twelve weeks is the point at which statistics and tests indicate it’s safe to announce the good news to the greater world. The team at sweetgreen were genuinely happy for me, and it posed no conflict; our project would wrap at the end of April and I wasn’t due until the end of August.
The week our project wrapped, Nathaniel Ru, co-founder and chief brand officer of sweetgreen, called me to ask if I was interested in a full-time position they were looking to shape. It would be a bit of a Swiss Army knife position, one that would involve production and creative operations but also strategy and company culture.
The more he explained his vision for the role, the more I realized he was describing the sort of hybrid position that only a smart, agile company with ambition could imagine. It was also a role I felt I could deliver on, one that would best take advantage of my skills, experience and passions.
By now I was a very visible 23 weeks pregnant. I’d been working remotely from edit bays and finishing houses for much of the last couple weeks and when I presented in video chats, I was only seen from the shoulders up. I couldn’t help but worry Nathaniel and team had forgotten about my pregnancy—that they would feel differently about hiring me if they’d seen me in person.
I decided not to bring up my pregnancy and waited instead for their offer letter, assuming they would address any thoughts or concerns in that form. When the letter came, it didn’t make any mention of parental leave or policy. I once again felt the pinch of fear and anticipated rejection that I’d experienced four years earlier.
I replied to their offer with a handful of general questions about org charts, equity plans and future hires, then casually concluded with, “What is your maternity leave policy and qualifying eligibility rules?” as if it were an inconsequential aside.
Take note, here is how a remarkable company responds: “We love you and we would always work to accommodate you, but you should know this is our policy for anyone who works at sweetgreen. You’ll have 5 months paid leave.”
Let me break down for you what I later learned: that is 5 months paid leave for both moms and dads, whether you are a salaried worker in their headquarters or an hourly worker at one of their stores.
When I got this news, I cried for 20 minutes. It tore open seams in my emotional body that I didn’t know existed. If there was any question about the type of company I was going to work for, this response had answered it. They’d made my decision for me.
Great companies who are in a position to do great things know that they are investing in their people, and in the skills and vibrancy these people can bring to their companies. They recognize that pregnancy will ultimately be a blip on the radar of a successful long-term relationship if they hire well, and if they’re really smart, they recognize the extraordinary number of reasons that hiring a soon-to-be parent is a benefit to them rather than a cost.
Parents learn to multitask, to be extraordinarily efficient with their time, to be diplomatic in the face of egos and tantrums and most importantly, to get out of their own way and become more creative and solutions-oriented than they might ever otherwise be required to be. Try digging your heels in with a toddler and you’ll quickly understand what I mean.
I say all this because it’s hard to flip the mentality that many women, myself included, may have as they approach a potential new job while pregnant. But change doesn’t happen by dismissing yourself prematurely or taking yourself out of the running. Nor does it happen by saying no when opportunity is afforded.
I opted for yes and started my new job the day after Mother's Day. I was at once nervous and grateful but above all, excited and grounded in the significance of what I’ve earned and what I’ve been given. I have a company that has not only chosen to stand for me but for every parent in America. And when I contemplate what the future might look like, for women and specifically my two daughters, I remind myself that this is the future. We are writing it as we live it.