Expectant mothers face discrimination in the workplace in the form of sexist comments and ‘microaggressions’, a new study reveals.
Researchers at London South Bank University surveyed 104 British women who had become pregnant and been in the workplace prior to taking leave.
The respondents reported facing sexist comments about having a ‘preggy brain’ and being refused promotions and pay bonuses.
Many said male colleagues, who often earned more for working in the same roles, started treating them differently when they got pregnant.
Some women reported that even though they were successful senior managers, they were treated like the ‘coffee lady’ or a personal assistant.
Other respondents said they endured negative comments due to taking time off for maternity appointments or illnesses.
Women report being treated differently in the workplace after colleagues learn that they’re pregnant, the study reveals
MILLIONS OF WOMEN CONSIDERED GIVING UP WORK IN LOCKDOWN
Millions of women considered ‘downshifting’ their careers or leaving the workforce due to Covid-19, a 2020 report found.
Female workers have been affected by the stress of juggling careers and looking after children, often compounded by a lack of help from their partner, it claims.
Women’s rights organisation Lean In, which was founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in 2013, surveyed 40,000 employees at 317 US firms for its report.
It found a quarter of women are considering giving up work due to stress and another quarter are worried about their performance at work being judged because of their need to look after their child.
Read more: Women ‘set to quit the workplace because of Covid-19’
The new research is being presented today at the British Academy of Management online annual conference.
‘All women that gave feedback about maternity said that since they become pregnant, men in their companies had treated them differently,’ said Dr Yehia Nawar at London South Bank University, who led the investigation.
‘The most common microaggressions were discriminatory comments about the women having a “preggy brain” when doing their work, or comments about their pregnancy.
‘But there are also negative assumptions made about taking additional time off work upon return and being less available to attend meetings or conferences.
‘A large number of women had experienced a more difficult situation at the workplace because of their pregnancy, such as missing promotions and no further pay-rise or bonus.’
The 104 respondents were mostly graduates, but the sample also included senior managers.
They were all aged over 17 and worked in a range of industries including healthcare, energy, technology, agriculture, charities and education.
Out of all the respondents, half said taking maternity leave had had a negative impact on their careers.
A third said taking time out to have a baby had no harmed their career, while the remainder were undecided.
Over a third said their self-esteem had suffered as a result of discrimination, in the form of disrespectful comments like being thought of as the ‘coffee lady’, mistaken for a personal assistant or called ‘dramatic’ when pointing out a problem.
Women who become pregnant face microaggressions, discrimination and harassment in the workplace, researchers at London South Bank University report (stock image)
WHAT IS THE GLASS CEILING?
Glass ceiling refers to a metaphorical invisible barrier that prevents certain individuals from being promoted to managerial- and executive-level job roles.
The phrase is commonly used to describe the difficulties faced by women and minorities when trying to move to higher roles in a male-dominated corporate hierarchy.
The survey also asked the women if they had felt any type of barrier or ‘glass ceiling’ at their workplace.
Almost half agreed there had been, compared with just a quarter who were happy with their career prospects.
‘This study revealed that glass ceiling still occurs in the UK and that women find difficult to reach top managerial positions due to microaggressions, discriminations, harassments, inequalities, stereotypes, prejudice, organisational culture and maternity,’ said Dr Nawar.
‘This demonstrates that a glass ceiling and gender bias is deep in the UK, and that it is affecting women’s careers.
‘More specifically, microaggressions, discriminations, harassments, inequalities, stereotypes, prejudice, organisational culture and maternity are destroying the women’s career prospects.’
According to 2018 research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission based on interviews with 3,254 mothers, 11 per cent had reported that they were either dismissed, made compulsorily redundant or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job.
The results, if scaled up to the general population, could apply to as many as 54,000 mothers a year, according to the commission.
One in five mothers said they had experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their colleagues – possibly as many as 100,000 mothers a year.
WOMEN BOSSES ARE BETTER AT KEEPING WORKERS HAPPY, STUDY FINDS
Women bosses are better at keeping workers happy, according to a study of nearly 12,000 lawsuits which revealed stock market firms led by female CEOs faced fewer claims of malpractice and coercive behaviour.
Research released by the Journal of Banking & Finance in 2021 found that female chief executive officers foster better employee relations.
Using workforce disputes, the study considered whether there is a link between the gender of a chief executive officer and the company’s connections between employees.
Researchers analysed data on 11,970 labour lawsuits filed against leading stock market firms from 2001 to 2014.
The results showed that firms led by female CEOs had ‘significantly fewer’ labour lawsuits filed against them and were also less likely to experience allegations of coercive labour practices.
Female CEOs were also associated with a greater variety of employee-friendly initiatives adopted by their firms.
The results backed up previous studies suggesting that female corporate leadership styles may be better at building good relationships with employees.
Lead author Chelsea Liu, from the University of Adelaide in Australia, said: ‘Given that CEO selection is one of the most important decisions made by a board of directors, this research provides new evidence about the relationship between CEO gender and employee relations.’
She said evidence shows that female and male executives tend to have different management styles.
Specifically, researchers find that female executives on average are characterised by a more democratic or participative style, in contrast with the more directive style adopted by male executives.
Female managers are also more likely to foster an environment of trust and cooperation, whereas male leaders tend to emphasise command, compliance, and competition.
In the context of relations with a workers, a more inclusive leadership style is expected to contribute to building stronger relationships with employees.
Ms Liu said: ‘In the event of potential issues, a culture of trust and cooperation can help prevent, mitigate or resolve contentions before they escalate to grievances or complaints.
‘Overconfident CEOs are more likely to make decisions which increase their firms’ vulnerability to problems, crises and litigation risks.
‘Empirical evidence shows that female executives and directors exhibit less overconfidence and a greater openness to seek expert advice and both traits are expected to reduce the risks of labour disputes and to prevent or mitigate breakdowns of labour relations.’
She added that female corporate leaders tend to demonstrate greater sensitivity towards ethical issues as found in previous research, which showed female executives are more receptive to a code of ethics compared to male executives.