How Organizations Can Boost Retainment of Pregnant Women and New Mothers

A new study led by Samantha Paustian-Underdahl, the Mary Tilley Bessemer Associate Professor of Business Administration at Florida State University, finds that if companies and other organizations want to ensure pregnant employees and new mothers stay on their payrolls, they’d do well to offer competitive maternity benefits.

The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, stipulates up to 12 weeks of leave for eligible employees of covered employers for the birth of a child and care for a newborn. But only a little more than half of the private-sector workforce is covered by the legislation. Participating employers are not required to pay employees who choose this benefit. Only 24 percent of private-industry workers and 27 percent of state and local government workers had access to paid family leave in 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dr. Paustian-Underdahl’s findings show that when women see their maternity benefits as less favorable than peers at other companies, they are more likely to experience pregnancy discrimination, and ultimately decide to leave their jobs. However, the study also suggests that this becomes less of an issue when pregnant women and new mothers believe they are supported by their supervisors.

“Our study is the first to show that maternity benefits, specifically, can be very important for retaining pregnant women and mothers in the workplace,” Dr. Paustian-Underdahl said. “We think investing in these benefits and investing in supportive supervisors are really important” if organizations want to hold on to their female employees.

“Organizations that maybe don’t have the budget to provide more maternity leave benefits could at the very least make sure they’re training their supervisors to be supportive,” Dr. Paustian-Underdahl added. “That can help ensure that pregnant women feel supported, are not experiencing discrimination, and are more likely to stay with the company.”

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

The full study, “Examining the Role of Maternity Benefit Comparisons and Pregnancy Discrimination in Women’s Turnover Decisions,” was published on the website of the journal Personal Psychology. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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