Pregnancy stereotypes at workplace pushing women to work extra hard, risking their health

If you’re pregnant, you should avoid doing certain things like prolonged standing, heavy lifting, climbing or carrying. ©Shutterstock

Pregnancy stereotype is not always visible, but it really impacts women in the workplace, say researchers.

Pregnant workers are often stereotyped as incompetent, weak or less committed to their job. To prove it wrong, many pregnant women go beyond their limits and work harder, putting their health at risk.

According to a new study, the majority of pregnant women in physically demanding jobs, about 63%, felt this type of "stereotype threat." Fear of confirming negative assumptions about pregnant workers led many women to conceal their pregnancy and overperform, even taking actions that placed their health and pregnancy at risk, such as standing for long periods or lifting heavy objects, the study said.

The study, published in the journal Work & Stress, was conducted by researchers from Washington State University. Pregnancy stereotype is not always visible, but it really impacts women in the workplace, said Lindsey Lavaysse, lead author on the paper and recent WSU Ph.D. graduate.

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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, added Lavaysse.

Stereotype threat may lead to workplace accidents

For the study, Lavaysse and co-author Tahira Probst, a WSU professor of psychology, surveyed pregnant employees who worked in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, health care and retail. The respondents were at different stages in their pregnancy. The researchers found that pregnant women who reported a higher stereotype threat had nearly three times as many work-related accidents at the end of the two-month period compared to those who felt a relatively low stereotype threat. Moreover, fears of confirming these stereotypes also increased over the two-month period. This means as they're progressing through their pregnancy, their experience of stereotype threat also increases, noted Lavaysse.

This is the first study to establish a connection between pregnancy stereotype threat and workplace accidents.

The authors of the study stressed the need for further research to find out possible variables that may mitigate some of the negative stigma around pregnancy and create better social support for utilizing pregnancy accommodation and maternal leave policies.

Beware of the pregnancy complications

If you're pregnant, you should avoid doing certain things like prolonged standing, heavy lifting, climbing, or carrying. These activities can increase the chances of miscarriage, preterm delivery (premature birth) and low birth weight. Lifting heavy objects may put pregnant women at risk of an injury due to differences in posture, balance, and an inability to hold things close to the body because of her changing size. Lifting an object incorrectly can also result in a pulled muscle and even hernia.

Certain working conditions such as exposure to harmful substances, prolonged standing, excessive noise, heavy vibrations from large machines and extreme temperatures, might also increase your risk of complications during pregnancy. The risk is higher for those who are at high risk of preterm labour. So, pregnant women are advised to stay away from such working environments.

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