For pregnant women on the job, fears about being seen by their co-workers as weaker, less committed or even less competent than their co-workers often cause them to work extra hard, potentially raising the risk of injury to themselves or their unborn babies, a new study has found.
Researchers at Washington State University studied about 400 pregnant women working at more physically demanding jobs in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, health care and retail. About 63% said they experienced a specific type of fear of confirming others’ negative assumptions about them, which the
researchers termed a “stereotype threat.”
Feeling this threat led many of the women to conceal their pregnancies at work as well as to overperform – even taking actions, like lifting heavy objects or standing for long periods, that could put their pregnancies at risk.
The researchers also looked at workplace accidents recorded among women who reported feeling a low versus high stereotype threat. Those who perceived a higher stereotype threat had nearly three times as many work-related accidents at the end of the two-month study period compared to those who felt a relatively low threat.
“The pregnancy stereotype is a silent stressor. It is not always visible, but it really impacts women in the workplace,” said Lindsey Lavaysse, Ph.D., the study’s lead author. “Most organizations have policies for pregnancy accommodation in place – and it’s a legal right – but if the organization’s culture suggests there will be retaliation, or that workers will be looked upon differently, then women will shy away from using accommodations that are better for their health and their safety.” The study was published in the journal Work & Stress.