TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It’s hardly a new phenomenon that women in the workplace have a harder time than men. It’s an unfair attitude and culture that has existed for far too long, and now a new study by researchers at Florida State University finds that a significant portion of working women feel they are being actively pushed out of their jobs when they become pregnant. New fathers, on the other hand, often see a boost in their careers.
FSU researchers led by Samantha Paustian-Underdahl, an assistant professor of management, studied and analyzed two established theories regarding why mothers are more likely to leave the workforce than fathers. One theory is that women feel “pushed out” of their workplaces when they become pregnant. The other is that women freely choose to “opt out” of work due to evolving personal and career values after giving birth.
“We found that pregnant women experienced decreased career encouragement in the workplace only after they disclosed they were pregnant,” Paustian-Underdahl says in a university release. “Once they told managers and co-workers, we saw a decline in career encouragement for women but an increase in career encouragement for men.”
The research team’s findings clearly illustrate inherent biases against expectant mothers in the workplace that make them feel unwelcome and unwanted. Overall, the study’s authors discovered that new or expectant mothers only seem to “opt out” of their jobs if they are feeling pushed out, not due to changing personal values.
After analyzing labor statistics, researchers found that when couples have children, women’s salaries tend to drop while men’s increase. However, the actual cause of these salary fluctuations is unclear.
Paustian-Underdahl and her team say that despite the fact that most pregnant women don’t lose any enthusiasm for their work, they are discouraged from working, which ultimately leads to these women becoming less connected to and satisfied by their careers. Conversely, men gain more support from their employers, and often end up becoming more committed to their careers.
Furthermore, after extensively looking into the “opt out” explanation that women naturally lose interest in their career after having a child, Paustian-Underdahl could not find any examples to support the notion.
“Contrary to expectations, career motivation increased for both men and women over the pregnancy,” Paustian-Underdahl says. “We expected career motivation to decrease for mothers throughout pregnancy, but we found the opposite to be true.”
The research team say their findings offer new guidelines on how to treat expectant and new mothers in the workplace. They recommend that all employers and managers stop making assumptions about the ambitions of their employees based solely on gender.
“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 says. “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.”
The study is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.