The New York Times released a disturbing report today, detailing several accounts of the flagrant discrimination and degradation that women face in the workplace once they become pregnant. Although many companies are creating environments conducive to equality, plenty of women still face an entirely different reality at work.
As a community that encourages well-being and support, we know that change can only happen with meaningful actions, but educating ourselves on the problem is the first step. Here are four disturbing facts we learned from these women’s stories:
1. Pregnant women are often seen as less capable, less committed, and more irrational:
The Times spoke to Erin Murphy, a woman who has been earning a six-figure salary at Glencore for years, and was described as “one of the hardest working” employees by her manager. After getting pregnant with her first child, she was told her career would “definitely plateau.” With her second child on the way, her manager presented the team with an article about “pregnancy altering women’s brains.” One month before giving birth, her manager told her, “You’re old and having babies so there’s nowhere for you to go.”
2. Discrimination often begins before you’re hired
If a mother is ready to return to work after giving birth, she should of course be welcomed with the same treatment and consideration from hiring managers as any other applicant. However, according to the report, many women have found that their status as mothers caused them to be regarded as less qualified and capable than other candidates.
The Times discussed a study from Shelley Correll, a Stanford sociologist, who presented a group of hiring managers with two similar resumes, one from a mother and one from a childless applicant. “The managers were twice as likely to call the apparently childless woman for an interview,” Correll reported, calling it a “motherhood penalty.” “There is a cultural perception that if you’re a good mother, you’re so dedicated to your children that you couldn’t possibly be that dedicated to your career.”
3. It’s also happening in the public sector
According to the Times, the decisions to demote, degrade, and fire pregnant employees are also happening to those employed in the public sector. The report revealed that Stephanie Hicks, who was working in the police department in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was forced to wear a bulletproof vest that was too tight, causing her body to risk a breast infection. “Her superior’s solution was a vest so baggy that it left portions of her torso exposed,” the report described.
4. It’s dangerous – emotionally, mentally, and physically.
The discrimination these women have faced have psychological and emotional ramifications, but in many cases, the discrimination can be physically harmful as well. The Times tells the story of Otisha Woolbright, an employee at Walmart who was forced to carry “50-pound trays of chickens into industrial ovens every day at her job.” When the task brought her to the emergency room at risk of a miscarriage, her manager told her she “had seen a pregnant Demi Moore do acrobatics on TV,” and that if Woolbright could not manage the heavy lifting, she could “walk out those doors.”