Persisting pregnancy discrimination hurts health of mothers, children

Last month, the New York Times published an article entitled “Pregnancy Discrimination Is Rampant Inside America’s Biggest Companies.” Authors Natalie Kitroeff and Jessica Silver-Greenburg had interviewed several women regarding their experiences in various workplaces. Their findings are troubling.

One woman, whose job at Walmart involved lifting heavy boxes, informed her boss that her doctor advised she perform light duty for the remainder of her pregnancy. When her boss dismissed the doctor’s orders, the woman had to choose between regular 50-pound lifting and a paycheck. She had to choose between putting her baby’s life at risk or putting her family’s livelihood at risk. She continued the heavy lifting. Towards the end of her pregnancy period, after inquiring about maternity leave, she was laid off. Walmart would “no longer be needing [her] services.” She remained unemployed for an entire year.

This type of pregnancy discrimination threatens both the health of the mother and the life of her unborn child. Moreover, pregnancy discrimination across industries indirectly hurts children by compromising the income of mothers (or future mothers). Given the health care and living expenses of raising newborns, new mothers especially cannot afford to be unemployed (and perhaps without health insurance) long-term.

Even for women working in offices and without direct, physical danger to their babies during pregnancy, their professional progress is hindered. The NYT reports each child reduces mothers’ hourly wages by 4%. At the same time, fathers’ wages increase by 6%. This subtle discrimination reinforces traditional gender roles: Mom is the primary caregiver; Dad’s career comes first. These norms are passed on to children as they observe their working parents. And families without the nuclear mother and father—single mothers, lesbian mothers—may not receive the family salary boost statistically awarded to fathers.

This report illuminates the persisting structural sexism within the professional world, and the risks it imposes on the health of women and their children. While legal battles may help some individual families, the comprehensive, long-term solution for families lies in a broader culture shift away from the unfair bias against pregnant women and mothers in the working world. CHIL encourages readers to stand up against pregnancy discrimination in your workplace, and actively set an example of treating the professional abilities of mothers equitably—for both your coworkers and children.