These were the casual words of a senior male human (I struggle to call him a leader) when I told him I had a miscarriage and hence was out of the office for a few days.
This story is almost 10 years old. I have two kids now but this story is still vivid and hurts me greatly.
So let me rewind a bit…
Yes, a miscarriage is hard on so many levels and is unfortunately so much more common than we realize and carries so much unneeded shame and stigma around it. I wanted to publicly talk about it and do my part to normalize it as best as we can.
I was fortunate to have a manager who was incredibly supportive when I shared the news and that I needed to take a few days off. When I came back I wanted to be vocal and transparent about why I had suddenly taken some time off.
I was climbing up the stairs with this man when he asked me how I was doing and I shared what had happened and why I had missed so many meetings over the last few days.
He casually smiled and said – “Ask your husband to do a better job next time.” and then walked away.
I was shocked, horrified, angry, hurt, and more. I needed a few moments to simply process what had happened before I could say anything.
It was the most insensitive, inappropriate, and inaccurate thing to say to a woman who just had a miscarriage.
I went to my manager and shared what had happened and he said
“I am sorry he did that to you but you know how he is, just ignore him. No point escalating to anyone else including HR. You know how powerful and influential he is, no action will be taken against him.”
And that was it, life went back to “normal”. I’d sit in meetings with him and we’d all act as if nothing had ever happened.
But, it never felt right.
I share this story because it pains me that I didn’t have the courage to speak up. I want to trust that this man had good intentions and didn’t realize the impact of his words and how he had misused his power. I’d like to believe that he was a good human but made a wrong choice at that moment. There could have been real implications of my speaking up and I didn’t want to deal with the consequences but still, a part of me wishes that I was brave enough to hold up a mirror to him.
I also share this story as an invitation to all managers to better advocate and care for their employees. When an employee comes and shares a vulnerable story like mine, please hold your peers accountable for doing the right thing. Being empathetic at the moment is beautiful but not sufficient to create workplaces where “everyone” feels safe, seen, and heard.
My hope is that “all of us” continue doing the hard work to be more self-aware and the impact we have on others. I hope our systems have cultures of feedback and accountability where it is safe to let someone know when their words have an unintended impact and we don’t just let people with big titles get away with behaviors that are not okay.