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  • Hilary Young

Pregnancy, Discrimination and The Workplace

This is me at 9 months pregnant with Baby #2. Women should not be punished for being mothers.

The New York Times recently wrote a shocking article about the realities of pregnancy discrimination within American businesses and corporations. The article cites the fact that the "number of pregnancy discrimination claims filed annually with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been steadily rising for two decades and is hovering near an all-time high."

This article happened to hit me on a personal level, as I am currently 9-months pregnant with my second child. I was working full-time at a medical device company when I was pregnant with my first child and I knew that my career would take a hit if I stayed. Although it was never explicitly expressed, I knew this for two reasons: One, because when I was 7-months pregnant there was an ice storm here in Philadelphia and I requested to work from home that day, as it was very unsafe for me to leave the house. My request was denied and I was forced to use PTO. Although I was angry, I used my time off that day to effectively set myself up to launch my own business on my maternity leave. And two, during my final performance review with the company, negative issues were brought up about my work and behavior that had never come up in any prior reviews. Additionally, my boss, who performed the review, was unable to cite specific examples to back up said issues. The whole experience made me feel as though there was no room for a new mom on their team.

Shocking Examples of Workplace Discrimination Against Pregnant Women

And it seems as though what I experienced is not uncommon in workplaces throughout the country. The New York Times article cites data that shows that "managers often regard women who are visibly pregnant as less committed, less dependable, less authoritative and more irrational than other women." In my opinion, that couldn't be farther from the truth.

Although there are a handful of women who tell their stories in this article, the most shocking examples of workplace discrimination against pregnant women included:

  • When [Erin Murphy] was eight months pregnant, she discussed potential future career moves with [her boss at Glencore] Mr. Freshwater. According to her, Mr. Freshwater responded, “You’re old and having babies so there’s nowhere for you to go.”

  • One former Novartis saleswoman, Christine Macarelli, said that her boss told her that “women who find themselves in my position — single, unmarried — should consider an abortion.” When she returned from maternity leave, she said she was told to stop trying to get a promotion “because of my unfortunate circumstances at home — being my son Anthony.”

  • In 2013, when she was three months pregnant, she started bleeding and went to the emergency room. She was told that she was at risk of miscarrying. She returned to Walmart with a physician’s note saying that she should avoid heavy lifting. She asked for light duty. That’s when her boss, Teresa Blalock, said she had seen a pregnant Demi Moore do acrobatics on TV.

None of the above is acceptable behavior for the workplace. While part of the solution is clearly introducing legislation that prevents this kind of discrimination from happening, another part is putting more working mothers in leadership roles at companies, both big and small.

The Sad Reality of Pregnancy Hurting Careers

Women currently account for less than a quarter of management positions throughout the world, but research has shown that companies who do place women in leadership positions thrive. According to a report by Morgan Stanley "more gender diversity, particularly in corporate settings, can translate to increased productivity, greater innovation, better products, better decision-making, and higher employee retention and satisfaction."

But the sad reality is that a majority of companies here in America might talk the talk about having an inclusive culture, but they don't walk the walk. Especially when it comes to "the mommy penalty." The New York Times found that:

  • Each child chops 4 percent off a woman’s hourly wages, according to a 2014 analysis by a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Men’s earnings increase by 6 percent when they become fathers, after controlling for experience, education, marital status and hours worked.

  • A paper published in November by researchers at the Census Bureau examined the pay of spouses. Two years before they had their first child, the husbands made only slightly more than their wives. By the time their children turned 1, the size of that pay gap had doubled to more than $25,000.

  • Tens of thousands of women have taken legal action alleging pregnancy discrimination at companies including Walmart, Merck, AT&T, Whole Foods, 21st Century Fox, KPMG, Novartis and the law firm Morrison & Foerster. All of those companies boast on their websites about celebrating and empowering women.

What Can Be Done

Aside from placing more women in leadership positions, including C-Suite positions, there are several things that can help alleviate this unnecessary discrimination that women face when they get pregnant.

Report Bad Behavior

Don't ever let discriminatory behavior slide in the work place. Document everything and tell your HR department as soon as you can. If your HR department is not handling the claim sufficiently or seriously, you can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Start Your Own Business

While it's not for everyone, using a negative experience in the workplace to help fuel a dream to run your own business or become a consultant can be liberating. It's exactly how I ended up launching my business and I have no regrets!

Become A Mentor To Other Women

When women support other women in the workplace, everyone wins. Men often become part of a network within a company, and the women can get left behind or struggle to keep up with the men. By connecting with other women, you can create a powerful shift within an office culture since a collective voice is louder than one.

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