How To Identify Pregnancy Bias At Work (And What To Do About It)
Welcome to my weekly Q&A roundup. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)
If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions — tough questions, brave questions, you name it. The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. So each week, I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.
The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusivity.
- Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.
- Inclusivity: bringing others along in the journey.
Pregnancy Bias Is Illegal, But Many Working Women Experience It
I overheard my manager refer to a colleague as a liability. This “liability” colleague of mine just announced her pregnancy. Is this an example of gender bias? Should I say something?
When pregnant women are referred to as liabilities in the workplace, it’s most likely a form of gender bias. However, without probing into this situation further, it’s difficult to say with absolute certainty that your manager was referring to your colleague’s pregnancy — and not a different exogenous factor — as the liability at play.
Here’s the evidence (i.e. data) to identify if this situation is likely a form of bias against your colleague’s pregnancy:
- Mothers are perceived to be 12.1 percentage points less committed to their jobs than non-mothers, while fathers are perceived to be 5 percentage points more committed to their jobs than non-fathers.
- Female applicants who appear not to be mothers are twice as likely to get an interview compared to female applicants who appear to have children.
- 69% of working adults believe mothers in the workplace are more likely to be passed up for a new job than other employees.
- 60% of working adults believe career opportunities are given to less qualified employees instead of working moms who may have more skills.
- Women face a 4% drop in wages for every child they have, whereas men receive a 6% wage increase for having children.
- The aggregate wage gap between working mothers and fathers in the US is $18,000 per year. It’s even wider for mothers of color.
- The average Latina working mother misses out on $35,000 annually and $1.4 million over her lifetime as a result of the pay gap.
This data allows us to better understand how conscious and unconscious biases shape workplace dynamics — such as how pregnant women are treated at work.
Data is especially valuable in making sense of workplace dynamics when directly asking people to explain their behavior could put your job, professional goals, and economic security at risk.
(Besides, many people are unaware of the biases they hold, and nearly 90% of the global population is biased against women.)
Based on the evidence cited above, there is reason to believe your manager’s liability comment was directed at your colleague’s pregnancy. Should that comment negatively impact how people treat your colleague at work, we have a legal problem.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment, including:
- Job assignments
- Fringe benefits such as leave and health insurance
- And any other term or condition of employment
So, should you say something about your manager’s comment? That’s for you to decide — what does “brave” look like to you? Whichever choice you make, remember to always arm yourself with the data that led to your decision.