Pregnancy Bias Is Illegal, But Many Working Women Experience It.

Question:

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?  

Answer:

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 69% of working adults believe mothers in the workplace are more likely to be passed up for a new job than other employees. 
  4. 60% of working adults believe career opportunities are given to less qualified employees instead of working moms who may have more skills. 
  5. Women face a 4% drop in wages for every child they have, whereas men receive a 6% wage increase for having children. 
  6. 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. 
  7. 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:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Pay
  • Job assignments
  • Promotions
  • Layoffs
  • Training
  • 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. 


This article was originally published here

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Katica Roy

Katica Roy is a gender economist and the CEO and founder of Denver-based Pipeline, an award-winning SaaS company that leverages artificial intelligence to identify and drive economic gains through gender equity. Pipeline launched the first gender equity app on Salesforce’s AppExchange. The Pipeline platform was named one of TIME Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2019 and Fast Company’s 2020 World’s Most Innovative Companies. In 2019, Katica’s articles garnered over 1 billion impressions. Learn more at www.pipelineequity.com
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