Many pregnant women feel like they are pushed out of their jobs, while new fathers tend to get a career boost, according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
Researchers from Florida State University (FSU) investigated two long-standing theories on why new mothers are more likely to leave the workforce than new fathers: The first theory suggests that pregnant women decide for themselves to “opt out” of work due to changing personal and career values. The second indicates that pregnant women often feel “pushed out” of the workplace.
The new findings suggest that the first notion is often driven by the second. In other words, the researchers found that inherent biases do exist against expectant mothers, which in turn makes them feel unwelcome in the workplace, often leading to them to opt out.
“We found that pregnant women experienced decreased career encouragement in the workplace only after they disclosed they were pregnant,” said Samantha Paustian-Underdahl, assistant professor of management at FSU’s College of Business, who has been studying the issue of expectant mothers in the workplace for six years.
“Once they told managers and co-workers, we saw a decline in career encouragement for women but an increase in career encouragement for men.”
That kind of contrasting treatment between men and women in the workplace has been documented in previous work. Known as the “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood premium,” researchers have attributed both to old cultural stereotypes that favor fathers as breadwinners and women as caregivers.
Labor statistics back up that financial contrast: When couples have children, women’s salaries tend to go down while men’s go up, yet few studies have been able to pinpoint the causes of those wage differences.
“This is one of the first studies to look at the workplace experiences of both men and women, and it shows men get benefits from parenthood that women don’t,” Paustian-Underdahl said.
The findings did not find examples of pregnant women becoming less enthusiastic about working, however.
“Contrary to expectations, career motivation increased for both men and women over the pregnancy,” Paustian-Underdahl said. “We expected career motivation to decrease for mothers throughout pregnancy, but we found the opposite to be true.”
But if expectant moms felt pushed out by an organization, then their career motivation dropped and they chose to leave their jobs. “This is the first study to show that being pushed out can actually drive women to adopt an opting-out attitude,” she said.
The research offers new ideas on how to treat expectant women. Primarily, workplaces should not reduce their career-related encouragement toward pregnant employees. Furthermore, managers should provide both fathers and mothers with social and career support to help them attain their work and family goals.
Paustian-Underdahl hopes her findings prompt all workers to stop making assumptions about men and women with children.
“If employers want to retain top talent, they should have honest conversations with employees about their career goals and plans, and then managers need to provide support to help employees achieve those goals,” she said. “Organizations need to give their workers the encouragement they’re looking for because, in this study, pregnant women really wanted career support, and they did not get it.”
Source: Florida State University