Founder's FAQ – Navigating Pregnancy Announcement with Your Board

I often receive inquiries from female founders and execs on how to announce their pregnancy to investors and/or board directors. It appears that very little is written about how to talk about one of the biggest moments in many people’s lives. So I’ve created this FAQ in case it’s helpful to a parent.

I am fundraising right now, should I tell potential investors that I am pregnant?

I fundraised while I was eight months pregnant. This was during the COVID-19 pandemic, so most conversations were happening via phone calls and Zoom. After I got the offer, and before I signed the term sheet, I disclosed that we would be taking maternity leave in a month. The offer did not evaporate and our investor told us to take the time we needed. In general, I would not do business with someone who isn’t going to support me as a mother and human.

When did you tell your board about your pregnancy?

I was nervous to tell my board that I was pregnant. I didn’t know how they would take the news, because I am also married to my cofounder — which meant that two founder/execs/board directors would be on parental leave at the same time. 

At 21 weeks, after the second-trimester ultrasound and prenatal tests confirmed my pregnancy was viable, I told my board I was pregnant. It was also around the same time my baby belly started to show.

How did you tell your board?

I made the announcement in person at the beginning of a board meeting. Instead of calling each one individually, I found it easier to make the announcement all at once. When I told my board, they had huge smiles and looked genuinely happy for us. In hindsight, if their reaction was anything less, it would have been a red flag. But luckily we had no jerks on our board.

What did you prepare when you told your board?

The only thing I prepared was who would serve as interim CEO. I had selected my CFO to serve as our interim CEO during my upcoming leave. It is possible that your board might have a difference in opinion on who should lead as interim CEO, but it’s important for the CEO to lead the board on this decision.

What was the maternity leave arrangement you agreed to with your board?

I told the board I would take four weeks off even though our startup had a three-month parental-leave policy. I ended up needing more time to heal and went back to work at six weeks postpartum. 

How did you announce your maternity leave to the team?

For our internal team, I announced my pregnancy and parental leave schedule and shared that our CFO would be in charge. I joked that they shouldn’t burn the place down while I am away.  I also had a written maternity leave plan on Google Docs, which everyone had access to, that itemized the goals I expected each leader to see through while I was gone. Each department leader and I created these goals together to ensure we were aligned across the business.

What would you do differently?

I went back to work as soon as I could because I was scared of what others might think of me as a new mother and CEO, perhaps because of my own insecurities, and perhaps because of the societal norms ingrained in me. I pressured myself into proving that I was as dedicated to PlanGrid as I always have been. If I could do it all over again, I would take the full three months off to be with my baby. I’d also use that time to take care of myself and be a good example to my team — and to demonstrate trust that they had my back and were covering for me, which they were.

I could have also been more creative about my ramp back into work. At my friend’s company, they had a phased-return policy that asked new mothers and fathers to come back to work one day the first week, two days the second week, three days the third week and so on until they were back to a full five-day work week. During the first three weeks back, they were not to lead any projects or try to cram a full week's work into a shorter work week.

Any general advice on pregnancy as a founder and/or C-Suite?

Even if you are lucky, the experience of pregnancy can be difficult. My advice would be to be open and vulnerable about what you’re going through. That approach may not be for everyone, but I’ve found that giving your teammates the gift of trust means that you will be given support and love back in a time where support and love can be powerful. Lead the team by example — be the kind of colleague you would want to have in those situations. Create a safe environment to have these open conversations, because the journey to pregnancy and the work of parenthood are all hard. And the experience is even harder when a pregnancy doesn’t work out for a variety of reasons.