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Can Pregnancy Put a Damper on Your Career?

TUESDAY, April 23, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- Many American women feel less welcome at work once they become pregnant, a new study finds.

On the other hand, expectant and new fathers often get a career boost.

"We found that pregnant women experienced decreased career encouragement in the workplace only after they disclosed they were pregnant," said study author Samantha Paustian-Underdahl. She's an assistant professor of management at Florida State University.

In the study, "career encouragement" was defined as efforts by bosses and co-workers to help further an employee's career. It was assessed by a questionnaire where workers said yes or no to statements such as, "People in my workplace give me advice on how to attain recognition in the organization," or "People in my workplace use their influence to support my advancement in the organization."

The new study found that "once they told managers and co-workers [about their pregnancy], we saw a decline in career encouragement for women, but an increase in career encouragement for men," Paustian-Underdahl said.

When pregnant women get less career encouragement at work, their motivation to remain with their employer or in the workforce can fall, the researchers noted.

Expectant and new fathers who get increased career encouragement often become more committed to work, according to the study published recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

But even though pregnant women may get less encouragement at work, they don't lose their enthusiasm for their jobs.

"Contrary to expectations, career motivation increased for both men and women over the pregnancy," Paustian-Underdahl said in a university news release. "We expected career motivation to decrease for mothers throughout pregnancy, but we found the opposite to be true."

The different treatment of expectant women and men -- known as the "motherhood penalty" and the "fatherhood premium" -- has been documented in previous studies, but the researchers said this is the first one to show that women who feel unwelcome the workplace may decide to opt out.

Workplaces should not cut back on supporting pregnant women's career advancement, and managers should provide both fathers and mothers with social and career support to help them achieve work and family goals, according to Paustian-Underdahl.

"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 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," Paustian-Underdahl concluded.

More information

The U.S. Office on Women's Health explains pregnancy rights at work.

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