Workplaces are constantly struggling with diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, including discrimination. Today, we focus in on one specific type of discrimination – pregnancy discrimination. Sadly, this type of discrimination is rampant in our society with thousands of cases being filed with the EEOC each year. What impact does this type of discrimination have? We dive into new research in this area today.
What Is Pregnancy Discrimination?
Pregnancy discrimination is negative treatment of women at work due to pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to both. It can include rudeness, social isolation, and negative stereotyping. However, it can also include more positive actions like we discussed in the past around helping pregnant coworkers. Many women fear being discriminated against during their pregnancy. And, unfortunately, as we mentioned earlier, it happens all the time. Many employees see their pregnant colleagues as less than ideal workers. They see these pregnant coworkers as irrational, emotional, and less competent than other employees. Coworkers do not see their pregnant peers the same way, even though nothing else has changed.
Why Is It Bad?
Research is lacking in understanding pregnancy discrimination. Luckily, brand new research dives into the health impact of pregnancy discrimination. The first critical finding of this research shows that prejudice during pregnancy leads to stress. In other words, if a pregnant employee feels like their colleagues are rude to them, they feel more stress.
Sadly, this increased stress causes problems for those being discriminated. Discriminated pregnant women face health challenges for themselves and their children. After childbirth, these women experience more clinical postpartum depression symptoms. They feel deep sadness and emptiness. In addition, these women birth children earlier and at a lower birth weight. Preterm and low birth rate babies face more complications and health challenges than other newborns. Also, these new mothers take their new babies to the doctor more often in the first few weeks. While we don’t know the reasons why, more doctor visits are a way to measure the health of a baby. Overall, discrimination causes mental health issues for mothers and physical health concerns for babies. Simply, moms and babies suffer when the mother faces pregnancy discrimination.
What to Do?
While this research is new and more needs to be done, we need to take it seriously. We’ve talked before about the importance of knowing how and when to help pregnant colleagues. We’ve also discussed the importance of support for pregnancy in the workplace.
In addition to all of this, employers need to focus on stoping pregnancy discrimination at work. Companies can educate leaders on how to avoid this type of discrimination. They can help leaders know when they see discrimination and what to do about it. Also, HR needs to create easy reporting processes and quickly address claims of discrimination. In addition, leaders can support employees through family supportive supervisory behaviors. Also, peers need to support coworkers appropriately.
If you are pregnant and have good relationships at work, try communicating when someone is treating you differently during your pregnancy. if you can’t or that doesn’t work, do what you can to reduce your stress levels. Try mindfulness or practicing gratitude. Take breaks, especially after an incident. And take time to recover at the end of the day.
Disclaimer: We want to acknowledge that research in this area focuses on pregnant women and not pregnant people more broadly. We see this as a gap in the research.
Need help? If you are experiencing postpartum depression or any other mental health issue and need urgent help, please call this National Hotline in the US or find your international emergency hotline here.