When the Boss Is Bad for the Baby

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Women who perceive workplace discrimination over their pregnancies are more likely to suffer stress and postpartum depression and to have babies that are born prematurely and with low birth weights, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

For the children of working mothers, “negative consequences of perceived workplace discrimination can begin before a child is even born,” says the paper, which will appear in a future issue of the journal and was released electronically on July 2.

The study, titled “Examining the Effects of Perceived Pregnancy Discrimination on Mother and Baby Health,” is by Kaylee Hackney of Baylor University; Shanna Daniels, Samantha Paustian-Underdahl, and Pamela L. Perrewé of Florida State University; Ashley Mandeville of Florida Gulf Coast University; and Asia Eaton of Florida International University.

The authors didn’t try to document that workplace discrimination against pregnant women exists. That has been amply demonstrated in other research and in news articles such as this one by Claire Suddath in Bloomberg Businessweek. Instead, they studied its consequences by surveying women about how they perceived their workplace environments and checking back with them later, after their babies were born.

Discrimination can take the form of social isolation, negative stereotyping, or rudeness. Well-meaning managers might try to reduce pregnant employees’ stress by giving them less work, but some women “may see a reduced workload as demeaning or even discriminatory,” the paper says. The solution is to ask the employees about their preferences, two of the authors, Hackney and Daniels, say in an interview. “Do not make assumptions,” says Daniels. “Have an open dialog with employees about what they want.”

The research combines one study involving 53 women and another involving 199. Most of the subjects were college-educated and white. The authors said one avenue of future research is to focus on women of color, for whom pregnancy discrimination may be compounded by racial discrimination. Black mothers suffer a significantly higher rate of infant mortality than white mothers.

Read More: How to Buy a Better Birth

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