Managing Work and Pregnancy

The intersection of work and pregnancy represents a particularly challenging aspect of the work-life interface, as pregnant women must navigate new roles and dynamic responsibilities in both work and home domains. We in the pregnancy research team are exploring the experiences of expectant mothers with hope that our findings will point to factors that increase positive (and decrease negative) work-pregnancy experiences.

What does our research suggest so far?

Complementary Interpersonal Punishments and Rewards That Maintain Traditional Roles:
One of the questions we're interested in is whether pregnant women are treated the same way as non-pregnant women when they apply for jobs. Although it is technically illegal for organizations to favor non-pregnant job applicants, we were concerned that decision-makers may be vulnerable to unconscious stereotypes when they interact with pregnant women.

We studied this question by asking young women (20-30 years old) to either (1) apply for jobs or (2) shop for a gift in retail stores. They either did or did not wear a pregnancy prosthesis. The women, as well as other researchers who secretly observed the interactions, filled out questionnaires about the interactions the pregnant woman had with store personnel while shopping or applying for a job. In addition, the interactions were recorded with audiocasettes. Each of these sources confirmed that pregnant women who applied for jobs encountered hostile reactions, that were rude, anxious, and short. Pregnant women who were shopping for a gift, however, encountered seemingly positive, yet patronizing, reactions such as being called "sweetie" and being touched. We interpreted these findings to suggest that pregnant women who act in feminine ways (by shopping) are supported, while pregnant women who act in non-feminine ways (by trying to get a job) are penalized interpersonally.

Managing Pregnancy Disclosures:
Another question that we are interested in addressing is how and when it is most effective for women to tell their bosses, coworkers, and subordinates that they are pregnant. We began to explore this question by conducting a review of existing research and developed a model that we think may help to guide women's choice about disclosing their pregnancy. As we describe in the next section, we are also beginning to test these questions.

What are we working on now?

We are currently in the process of conducting two additional studies of pregnant women. In the first study, we are focusing on the question of how women tell their bosses, coworkers, and subordinates about their pregnancies. We are interested in the ways in which women diclose their pregnancies and in the reactions they receive. We hope the results of this study will give very detailed information about what disclosure strategies are effective and for whom.

In the second study, which is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, we are tracking the experiences of women throughout the course of their pregnancies. These women are responding to a weekly survey in which we ask about the types of positive and negative interactions they have had while at work. For example, we're interested in how often women feel that their coworkers resent their pregnancy and how often women feel their supervisors are supportive. We are interested in understanding how these pregnancy-related experiences affect mental and physical health, as well as how women feel about their jobs.

How can I participate or get more information?

Want to participate or ask us questions? You can reach us easily by email at workfam@gmu.edu. You can also find out more information or participate in the current studies by clicking here. Finally, you can learn more about the other work that is going on in the workplace diversity research group by visiting the homepage of the primary investigator, Dr. Eden King.

Thanks for your interest in our work!