28 November 2013

Discrimination at work: a pregnant issue

The Guardian: 'Working after eight months of pregnancy is as harmful as smoking, study finds'
The Daily Mail: 'Working in late stages of pregnancy is as bad as smoking, new research claim'
Marie Claire: 'Working at eight months pregnant has same effect on your baby as smoking'

When I was eight months pregnant and working full time, several newspapers in the UK reported that women who worked after they were eight months pregnant had lighter babies than women who finished work earlier in their pregnancy1. The media moralised the maternal choice to work: maternal working suddenly became 'bad', just like maternal smoking is 'bad' (e.g., the Guardian, 2012: 'Work after eight months of pregnancy is as harmful as smoking, study finds'; see also the Daily Mail, 2012; Marie Claire, 2012).

Gee, thanks guys. Some more guilt, just what working mothers need. Suffice to say, the media's conclusion went far beyond the available data.

Unfortunately, this is just another example of discrimination towards pregnant women who work. Pregnant workers already have to grapple with a torrent of benevolent sexism (for example, research shows that pregnancy is a time when women are stereotyped as warmer but more incompetent2). Overt discrimination is shockingly commonplace3. An estimated 30,000 women lose their jobs each year as a result of being pregnant, according to the Equal Opportunities Commission4. Since the recession, disproportionate redundancies of pregnant women look set to rise. Some employers are allegedly "using the recession as an excuse to break the law on discrimination" 5. The irresponsible, unwarranted moralisation of women's choice to work during pregnancy by the media (i.e., 'working whilst pregnant is bad') can only exacerbate the situation.

A worrying question surrounds the consequences of pregnancy discrimination. If a pregnant worker is made to feel inadequate and incompetent at work, is denied opportunities, and then opens a newspaper to read that she is harming her baby, she may start to reconsider her choice to work. Suddenly, this choice doesn't seem as free as it should be…

Hello, 1950s.

How can we work together to dispel the myth that 'maternal working is bad', per se? The first step that you can take to help is to share your experiences at work with us. We can then use your responses to advocate for pregnant women in the workforce. Please do consider clicking on the link below. We will share the findings with you on this website as soon as the results are in.

**The results of this research are now in! Read about them here.**

Thank you.