By Sherkiya Wedgeworth

Blog archive

Study debunks pregnant worker woes

In the case of Young v. United Parcel Service earlier this year, former UPS worker Peggy Young took her fight to the Supreme Court after her former employer refused to offer her accommodation while on the job, which required her to lift 70 pounds ... while pregnant.

Then there was the case of Kerri Colicchio, a Merck pharmaceutical company executive who claimed she was fired for taking maternity leave.

As more and more women decide to work through their delivery dates, pregnancy discrimination lawsuits like these have risen steadily over the last decade and a half.  Reports show that more than a quarter of a million women are denied requests for an accommodation at work—such as requesting lighter lifting loads, taking more breaks or adjusting their schedules for doctor visits—so they can stay on the job while pregnant.

Findings such as these may very well be why many women are going above and beyond in the office while pregnant to avoid becoming another pregnancy-related lawsuit statistic or headline.

A study, "Professional Image Maintenance: How Women Navigate Pregnancy in the Workplace," published in the February/March issue of the Academy of Management Journal, found that many pregnant workers are concerned about how their co-workers and managers perceive them, and reject the notion that they need special treatment and accommodations to fulfill their jobs while pregnant.

"What we found, in an overwhelming way, was that the primary concerns were outwardly focused on their professional image and how they would be viewed at work," said study co-author Laura M. Little of the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business. "We were surprised at this—surprised not that it was a concern but that it was the overriding concern." 

Through a survey of hundreds of pregnant workers, as well as in-depth interviews with more than two dozen other women, researchers found that on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) pregnant employees averaged 4.23 in response to "I try not to ask for accommodation"; 4.25 on "I try to get more done at work"; and 4.30 on "I want others to know that who I am at work is the same as before the pregnancy."

Such attitudes resulted in lower burnout, lessened feelings of discrimination and increased likelihood of returning to work after giving birth.

In all, the study refuted many of the stereotypes of pregnant workers, and debunked lawsuit-related headlines that cast pregnant women as being in a constant battle to receive special treatment or stay on the job after revealing their pregnancy and requesting maternity leave.

The authors said that before the findings they had believed “that the monumental change of becoming pregnant would drive women's concerns regarding work. We discovered instead that most women claimed that their perceptions of themselves had not changed substantially during pregnancy—rather ... they tended to portray themselves as the eye in the center of a storm—an island of relative normality in the midst of their bosses', coworkers' and clients' changing perceptions ... As a result, many women perceived their pregnancies as a potential threat to their professional images, and, at times, even to their very jobs. Many women expressed a determination to counter these perceptions."

The researchers concluded that "the key question for employers and organizations should not be whether women's priorities will shift during pregnancy but how best to respond to women's concerns about others' changing views."

Posted by Sherkiya Wedgeworth on Aug 19, 2015 at 8:37 PM

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above.

2021 Digital Almanac

Stay Connected

Latest Forum Posts

Ask the Expert

Have a question regarding your federal employee benefits or retirement?

Submit a question