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'Silent' pregnancy discrimination at work happens often

When discrimination and harassment occur in the workplace, this behavior can be blatantly obvious, it can exist fairly silently and play out in subtle ways or it can be somewhere in between these two opposites. While pregnancy discrimination often happens in obvious ways, recent research published in the Harvard Business Review indicates that the more silent and subtle forms of pregnancy discrimination also happen quite frequently.

This form of discrimination begins unconsciously for many. Once a woman announces that she is pregnant, co-workers and superiors may silently start to perceive her as less capable of performing her duties, of advancing in her position and of remaining committed to the job. These individuals do not necessarily act on their perceptions consciously, but they often do so subconsciously.

The study's authors concluded that even the mere perception of a pregnant or nursing woman as less competent or committed can lead to serious professional consequences. And the real challenge in this scenario is that it is difficult to prove that discrimination is occurring when the players involved are not wholly aware of their own shifting perceptions themselves.

This "pregnancy penalty" may ultimately result in fewer promotions, fewer raises, less attention by superiors and even wrongful termination. How does the penalty translate in terms of pay and compensation? According to a study published in 2007, mothers under the age of 35 experience a greater wage gap between themselves and women who are not mothers than women do in relation to men.

This form of discrimination is quite challenging to fight, but it can be done in many cases. If you fear that you are suffering a pregnancy penalty at work, you may wish to contact an experienced employment law attorney to discuss your situation.

Source: The Atlantic, "The Pregnancy Penalty: How Working Women Pay for Having Kids," Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Dec. 13, 2012

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