Pregnancy And Motherhood In The Workplace In The United States


What is Gender discrimination? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “gender discrimination is a situation in which someone is treated less well because of their sex.” In the workplace, discrimination can come in many different forms. Typically, when an employee or a job applicant is treated differently or less favorably because of their sex/gender or because of their affiliation with an organization or group that is associated with a particular sex or gender, this is considered gender discrimination. The “glass ceiling” is a term used to describe the invisible barrier that women must overcome to reach top management positions. The “ceiling” is the physical barrier that hinders advancement, the “glass” refers to the invisibility of the barrier (Jauhar & Lau, 2018). Career advancement refers to the upward progression of one’s career. It is usually accompanied by an increase in pay. Gender discrimination is an issue that affects many women’s ability to achieve career advancement.

Examples of gender bias/discrimination can range from not being hired, being given lower pay for the same job because of your sex/gender, being held to a different standard, being more critically evaluated because of your sex/gender, being paid less than a person of the opposite sex/gender that are equally or less qualified than you, having more duties than someone of the opposite sex/gender who holds the same position, being denied a promotion/raise/opportunity because of your sex/gender, being disciplined for something others of the opposite sex/gender aren’t, being subjected to hostile remarks, being insulted, receiving unwanted sexual advances, to being penalized for being pregnant. While there are many areas worthy of a deeper look, this paper will further explore the dicriminatin women face when chosing motherhood.

Understanding Gender Discrimination

To better understand gender discrimination, we need to first look at the recent percentages of women in the workforce. Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, outright gender discrimination in the workplace is less frequent; however, subconscious gender discrimination does still exist. These seemingly innocent biases contribute to gender inequality in the workplace and hinder women’s abilities to reach the top ranks of corporations and their ability to gain equal pay for equal work. Despite these upsets, women in the United States are still drastically underrepresented at the top management level in business and government. Women make up more than half of the population of the world and compose almost half of the workforce. They make up nearly 40% of middle management and professional occupations, they represent less than 15% of executive officer positions, and just 5% of CEO positions. However; women average 82 cents for every dollar a man earns, mothers earn 73 cents, and single mothers about 60 cents, making wage significantly inequal (Gungor & Biernat, 2009).

Making a Family Choice

Whether to stay home with a baby or work to afford the cost of a baby could be the ultimate internal conflict of women who choose to become mothers. In addition to motherhood, women face additional conflicts when becoming pregnant and after becoming married (Nunenmacher & Schneph, 2012). Professional women face workplace discrimination out of the combined effect of social expectations, pressures, and career role aspirations. Women who chose to become mothers are typically stereotyped as warm, nurturing homemakers, while men who are fathers are typically described as the breadwinners. Society views family men or “breadwinners” as ideal candidates for top management, while women are viewed as more suitable for motherhood than top management and decision making. Women are typically responsible for taking care of the children and doing the household chores, because of this they are viewed as less committed to their jobs, which can have a negative impact on career advancement. The “ideal worker” is someone who works 40 plus hours per week, begins working in their 20’s through their 60’s, and dedicates most of their time and energy to work even if it means neglecting other responsibilities like their family. Society expects women who choose to become mothers to regard their domestic duties as a priority. Because the traits required for career advancement are contradictory to the stereotypical traits of motherhood, women will always be perceived as less desirable than men for top management roles regardless of their qualifications.

In studies conducted by American Journal of Sociology, motherhood and gender had a significant effect on the perceptions of potential employers. Their study consisted of sending resumes to various job openings while changing demographic characteristics on each resume. Overall, the female resumes received less call backs than the male resumes. Married mothers were even more disadvantaged than single, non-mothers. Reversely, there was no negative effect for fathers compared to single, childless males. Fathers received more call backs then men without children. This study also found that working mothers were less likely to be hired, promoted, or trained compared to single men and women. In another study the American Journal of Sociology, they found that on measures of competence, commitment, punctuality, salary, and hiring, mothers received a lower ranking compared to childless females and fathers (Gungor & Biernat, 2009). Research conducted by the Catalyst reveals that even after shattering the “glass ceiling” and attaining high powered roles, women are more likely than men to voluntarily leave their positions for family. 

Gender Discrimination Laws

Government enacted laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 offer mothers some protection against discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discrimination based on a person’s sex. Unfortunately, the United States Supreme Court held that discriminations based on pregnancy did not constitute discrimination based on sex. So, in 1978, Congress amended Title VII to include the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This law prohibits discrimination due to pregnancy, childbirth, or other conditions associated with pregnancy. The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is considered one of the most important federal laws that directly impact natural motherhood, adoption, and foster parents. Under the FMLA, women and men may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for the birth, adoption, or placement of a child without fear of losing their job. This can also include pregnancy related illness and care of a sick child. There are some requirements to receive FMLA employees must employees with their company for a minimum of 12 months, the company itself must have at least 50 employees. There is still much room for improvement of these laws. The requirements to receive benefits from FMLA create limitations. Since a company must have 50 employees to offer benefits, this leaves many expectant mothers unprotected. FMLA only requires unpaid leave, many expectant mothers cannot take the full 12 weeks due to financial constraints such as of being a single mother or families that are in need the mother’s income to survive. As of 2020 only four states in America offer a 6-week paid maternity leave, California, Georgia, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. This puts America far behind many other countries. Currently 178 other countries offer paid maternity leave and 50 offer paid paternity leave for the father.

What can be done?

First, policy makers should include accommodations for complications in addition to pregnancy. Policies should not restrict employees from working as long as they are able to perform their jobs effectively and safely. When employees are unable to perform a manually demanding job, other job duties should be assigned to help the employee maintain income if possible. Second more employers could allow employees to bring children to the workplace, when it is safe for a child to be there. The Neill Corporation in Hammond, LA adopted a company policy almost 30 years ago that allows employees to bring their babies to work with them, up to 3 months old. The employee is given an area when they can bring childcare equipment alongside their workstations. The HRM of Neill Corp. believes the policy encourages bonding instead of forcing mothers to leave their baby and return to work and allows them to also focus on work. As of 2016 over 200 U.S. companies now allow children in the workplace.


While great strides have been made to deter gender discrimination in the workplace, there is still significant room for improvement especially in the area of motherhood and parenthood. When choosing to return to work after giving birth women face many difficult choices, some that go against their very nature. Although laws like Title VII and FMLA have alleviated some of the burdens that mothers face, they have not addressed issues like childcare, breastfeeding, and paid leave. This has left some women in lose-lose situations where they have to choose between a career, career advancement, or staying home with their newborn(s)/child(ren). To overcome stigmas associated with pregnancy and motherhood, women must realize their value in society and assert their needs to their employers.


  • Dworkin, T., Schipani, C. A., Milliken, F. J., & Kneeland, M. K. (2018). Assessing the Progress of Women in Corporate America: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same. American Business Law Journal, 55(4), 42p.
  • Gungor, G., & Biernat, M. (2009). Gender Bias or Motherhood Disadvantage? Judgments of Blue Collar Mothers and Fathers in the Workplace. Sex roles, 60, 14p.
  • Jauhar, J., & Lau, V. (2018). Support., The 'Glass Ceiling' and Women's Career Advancement to Top Management: The Moderating Effect of Social. Global Business & Management Research, 10(1), 16p.
  • Noe, R. A., Hollenbeck, J. R., Gerhart, B., & Wright, P. M. (2020). Fundamentals of Human Resource Management, Eigtht Edition. New York, NY.
  • Sheppard, L. D. (2018). Gender Differences in Leadership Aspirations and Job and Life Attribute Preferences among U.S. Undergraduate Students. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 12p. 
16 August 2021
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