Benevolent Sexism at Work Can Negatively Impact New Mothers’ Decisions to Return to Their Jobs

A new study led by Kristin P. Jones, an assistant professor of management at the University of Memphis, finds that when colleagues at work try to lighten a pregnant woman’s load, it can hurt her chances of returning to work after giving birth.

The researchers were interested in how benevolent sexism — the belief, rooted in traditional gender roles, that men and women are better or worse at certain things — impacts a woman’s feelings about her career during and following pregnancy. The researchers surveyed a large group of women on a weekly basis during their pregnancies and for nine months postpartum. They asked the women how often they experienced “helpful” behavior at work — for example, co-workers trying to shield them from unpleasant news, giving them easier tasks or assigning them lighter workloads. They also asked the women how this behavior made them feel about their work abilities.

Overall, the authors found that this “helpful” behavior – regardless of whether the women thought of it as helpful or harmful to their productivity — ultimately made them feel worse about themselves and their workplace abilities and this impacted their plans on returning to the workforce after giving birth.

Dr. Jones joined the faculty at the University of Memphis in 2016 after teaching at Washington State University-Vancouver. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia

The research article, “How Help During Pregnancy Can Undermine Self-Efficacy and Increase Postpartum Intentions to Quit” will appear in an upcoming edition of the journal Personnel Psychology. It may be accessed here. Additional co-authors of the study are Eden King of Rice University in Houston, Judith Clair of Boston College, Beth Humberd of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and David Arena from the University of Memphis.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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