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Pregnant women face hostility

Pregnant women still face an overtly hostile reception while applying for jobs or at retail stores, says a study.
IANS | By HT Correspondent, Washington
UPDATED ON MAY 07, 2008 05:14 PM IST

Pregnant women still face an overtly hostile reception while applying for jobs or at retail stores, according to recent studies.

In one study, 81 adults evaluated a pregnant or non-pregnant applicant for male or female-typed jobs.

Those who provided evaluation for more "masculine" jobs like corporate lawyer, janitor, high school math teacher or general surgeon were more judgemental toward pregnant woman than when evaluating the same applicant for positions such as a maid, kindergarten teacher or paediatrician.

In another study, research assistants entered 110 retail stores and followed a script in which they either applied for a job or browsed for a gift, sometimes wearing a prosthesis that made them appear pregnant.

These research assistants and a secret observer rated salespersons' hostile behaviours (such as rude, anxious, short) and patronising behaviours (abbreviated names, overfriendliness, touching).

The study found that the women who asked about job opportunities when wearing the pregnancy prosthesis faced significantly more hostility than when the same women appeared as non-pregnant and inquired about jobs.

"The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 prohibits formal discrimination against pregnant women in all federal jobs and in companies with 15 or more employees," said Eden King of George Mason University.

"Unfortunately, when people suppress their discrimination in one arena, it may emerge in another - subtle interpersonal cues such as avoidance of eye contact or lack of warmth."

The study also showed that pregnant women who stayed within more traditional bounds such as shopping experienced overtly patronising behaviour.

King and Michelle Hebl's results showed that pregnant women who went into retail stores asking for help finding a gift more often found themselves victims of behaviour such as overfriendliness, physical touching and being called "honey" or "sweetie".

"The question we also have to ask is: Does being overly nice have negative consequences? And we've seen that it does. These reactions serve to maintain traditional gender roles, which can inhibit women's success both in and outside of the workplace," King says.

"This research highlights the challenges facing working mothers and suggests that current policies might not be as effective as hoped," says King.

The studies, co-written by King and Michelle Hebl of Rice University, appeared in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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