Washington State University(WSU) publishes the first study establishing a relationship between fear of stereotypes of pregnant workers and workplace accidents.
In many sectors and companies, women are still afraid when they become pregnant, due to what it may mean for them at work. In physically demanding jobs, some women exert themselves during the gestation period for fear of the stereotypes that their state may generate for them.
A recent Washington State University study of pregnant women in physically demanding jobs showed that the majority, about 63%, felt this type of “stereotype threat,” the fear of confirming negative assumptions about a group to which they belong.
The study warns that women who feel this “stereotype threat,” that is, be considered weaker or less fit for the job due to the fact being pregnant, they suffer more accidents at work due to the extreme performance they do — from standing for long periods to lifting heavy objects.
The lead author of the paper, Lindsey Lavaysse, a Ph.D. in Psychology from that university, said, “The pregnancy stereotype is a silent stressor. It is not always visible, but it really impacts women in the workplace.” She also added, “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.“
For its preparation, Lavaysee and Tahira Probst, co-author of the research and also a professor of Psychology at the WSU, surveyed and followed up for two months a group of 400 pregnant women of different ages and who were at different times of gestation. All of them work in industries from different sectors, including manufacturing, health care, and retail.
The study concluded that about 63% of them felt this type of “stereotype threat.”
Dr. Lavaysse explained that when faced with this threat, women showed two different ways of dealing with it: concealment and over-performance (taking on additional tasks).
In this sense, the study affirms that “excessive efforts as a way to face the threat of stereotypes led to an increase in workplace accidents”, specifically, they had almost three times more workplace accidents at the end of the two-month period. The study further states that there was also a difference between those who felt a high threat compared to those who were low.
Asked about a possible difference in the stress perceived by women based on their positions in the company, the author assures that “I cannot speak of these differences since that is not something we look at, but it would be interesting for future research.“
The authors acknowledge that the study has some limitations, such as the short time frame for follow-up. “Two months is a relatively small window of time, but in a pregnancy schedule, it is close to a full trimester,” Lavaysse said. “As your pregnancy progresses, your experience of a stereotype threat, a significant stressor, is also increasing.“
Furthermore, the participants were selected by themselves, not entirely randomly, and some dropped out before the end of the two months. However, the most significant relevance of the work is that it is the first study to establish a connection between the threat of the stereotype of pregnancy and workplace accidents.
The authors urge further research that studies possible variables that may lessen some of the negative stigmas around pregnancy while working and create better social support for utilizing pregnancy accommodation and maternal leave policies.