Do Pregnant Women More Often Opt-Out of the Workplace or Are They Pushed Out?

A new study led by Samantha Paustian-Underdahl, an assistant professor of management in the College of Business at Florida State University, examines why many women leave their jobs after they become pregnant. There are competing theories on the subject. One that women leave because after becoming pregnant their personal values and career aspirations change. The other theory argues that women get pushed out of their jobs because they no longer feel welcome in the workplace.

The current study finds that the more likely scenario is that inherent biases against expectant mothers make them feel unwelcome and that they are pushed out of their jobs. The study found that pregnant women often experienced decreased career encouragement. The results confirmed a “motherhood penalty” and a “fatherhood premium” for workers who announced that they are having a baby.

“Once they told managers and co-workers, we saw a decline in career encouragement for women but an increase in career encouragement for men,” Dr. Paustian-Underdahl noted.

Her findings indicate that as expectant moms receive reduced career encouragement at work, they experience lower motivation to stay with the organization or in the workforce. Fathers see the opposite effect. They get increased career encouragement from colleagues and managers and become more committed to their work.

“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,” Dr. Paustian-Underdahl said. “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.”

Dr. Paustian-Underdahl is a graduate of the University of Georgia. She holds a master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology and a Ph.D. in organizational science from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

The study, “Pushed Out or Opting Out? Integrating Perspectives on Gender Differences in Withdrawal Attitudes During Pregnancy,” was published on the website of the Journal of Applied Psychology. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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