Pregnancy discrimination, perceived or real, is alive and well, and researchers with Baylor University confirm this discrimination has adverse effects on mothers and babies.
Legal or not, there’s still pregnancy discrimination in many of today’s workplaces. Research out of Baylor University finds that this pregnancy discrimination continues to lead to increased levels of postpartum depressive symptoms, lower gestational ages, more necessity for doctor visits for babies and lower birth weights in babies.
Dr. Kaylee Hackney is an assistant professor of management at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business. She says that despite being illegal in the workplace, pregnancy discrimination still happens.
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Dr. Hackney is the lead author of the study, “Examining the Effects of Perceived Pregnancy Discrimination on Mother and Baby Health.” The study is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and highlights the negative impact that even perceived pregnancy discrimination has on mom and baby’s health.
To come to this conclusion, the researchers surveyed over 250 pregnant employees over the course of two studies. They measured perceived stress, demographics, postpartum depressive symptoms and perceived pregnancy discrimination. They also studied the health outcomes of the babies–their gestational ages, APGAR scores, birth weights and number of visits they needed to see the doctor.
To assess perceived pregnancy discrimination, the researchers measured responses to statements like, “Prejudice toward pregnant workers exists where I work,” and “I am so unhappy that I cry,” and “In the last month, have you felt stressed or nervous?”
Dr. Hackney said the biggest surprise from their findings showed that the pregnancy discrimination the mothers felt in their workplaces didn’t just adversely affect the mothers; their growing babies were also negatively impacted. Dr. Hackney says that this is important to know because it shows how far-reaching the impact of workplace discrimination is, and how important it is to address and eliminate it.
The team found that in the last decade, women filed over 50,000 pregnancy discrimination claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Fair Employment Practices Agencies in the United States. Pregnancy discrimination is the unfavorable treatment of women at work due to their pregnancy, childbirth or other medical conditions that may be related to childbirth or pregnancy.
When a pregnant woman experiences subtle hostility at the workplace–negative stereotyping or social isolation or even harmful and rude personal treatment–they’re experiencing pregnancy discrimination. They may be the butt of inappropriate ‘jokes’ or offensive comments, and they may be transferred or assigned to less-desirable work situations due to their pregnancy.
Not only is this pregnancy discrimination illegal, even if not overt, but it’s also bad for the health and welfare of mothers and babies.
So what should employers do to ensure fair workplace environments for pregnant women?
Hackney believes that managers can do so by offering flexible scheduling as permitted, normalize breastfeeding in their workplaces, keep channels of information open and the pregnant woman in the loop concerning work-family benefits and to help accommodate prenatal appointments as permitted.
Hackney also believes that if managers strive to make sure that discrimination doesn’t happen, and that no one makes assumptions about what pregnant employees want, better outcomes for mothers and babies will occur.
She also believes the findings suggest that there’s an opportunity for healthcare organizations to provide pregnant workers with stress-reducing strategies, and to help train managers to be more family-supportive and less biased against their pregnant employees.
It seems logical, right? So why is it so hard still?
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