opinion

Pregnancy and Maternity Leave Can Interfere With Work

They are time-consuming and challenging—and may result in permanent consequences for a woman's career. The time spent at doctors appointments, on bed rest during pregnancy, and during maternity leave can all add up. And they may mean long-term effects on promotions, reputation, and client retention.
December 4, 2020Updated 18 days ago
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Pregnancy and Maternity Leave Can Interfere With Work
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Doctor's appointments during pregnancy can be frequent and time-consuming. With upwards of a dozen appointments over the course of nine months (If not more, depending on a woman's health), the time lost can have long-term effects on a woman's goals, whether they be personal or professional. Frequent visits near the end of a pregnancy can mean women might have to miss important meetings or other engagements.
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In order to ensure proper prenatal development, doctors urge expecting mothers to come in for frequent visits, especially during the second and third trimesters. Toward the end of the pregnancy, the frequency of visits increases to once every two weeks and then once every week in the final months. Women with high risk pregnancies—such as geriatric pregnancies or pre-existing conditions—may have to attend even more frequent doctors appointments. Women can expect to see their doctor more than a dozen times during their pregnancy. For working women, this schedule can be extremely disruptive. Factoring in travel from work to the doctor's office and back, plus wait times, and the actual appointment itself, women are forced to lose 2-3 hours of their work day for a doctor's appointment. This problem is magnified for women who live in rural areas or working-class women—two groups who have less choice over where and when their doctors appointments are. That can also mean longer transportation times which in turn means more life disruptions. This loss of time, especially at high-pressure jobs, can be hard to catch up on. It may allow other colleagues to advance or to take on additional clients.
Even a short maternity leave can have negative work consequences. The law doesn't always protect pregnant women from losing their jobs. Many employers will find loopholes or excuses to dismiss pregnant women or new mothers from jobs, even if they are long-term employees. Meanwhile, the women who do return to their jobs waiting for them may have difficulties catching back up on work they missed during maternity leave.
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While an employer is not allowed to legally fire someone simply for taking maternity leave, many employers seem to find loopholes to do just that. Women are then put in the impossible position of losing their jobs just as they might need the income more than ever: while starting a new family. Just this summer a former SoulCycle employee sued the company, claiming she was fired for taking maternity leave. Jordan Kafenbaum, the former senior director of instructor programming and talent management of SoulCycle, says she was fired just 32 days after giving birth. In her lawsuit she described her termination as “blatant pregnancy discrimination and retaliation.” Her case is just one of many similar ones that happen all the time, at companies both big and small. Another case that took place in recent years occurred where a woman claims she was fired from her job at Ramsey Solutions in Tennessee simply for getting pregnant out of wedlock. Even for those women who are not outright fired, many return to an office where colleagues have taken over some of their responsibilities or clients. Research found that some women who take maternity leave may even find it harder to advance or get promoted after they return. Especially in high-powered jobs where the pace of work moves quickly, even a short few weeks out of the office can put women too far behind their male counterparts. This kind of lost income when it comes to being passed over for promotions can be both hard to measure and difficult to prove in a court of law, meaning that women have little recourse to protect themselves from it. Researchers writing for the Harvard Business Review found that both men and women held negative preconceptions when they saw that a woman had taken a long maternity leave. These slight perceptions can have major consequences: resulting in a woman not getting a job or not being promoted at a new job. As the researchers concluded: "Evidence from a variety of countries reveals that the longer new mothers are away from paid work, the less likely they are to be promoted, move into management, or receive a pay raise once their leave is over. They are also at greater risk of being fired or demoted."
CLOSURE
Especially for women in high-powered jobs, pregnancy can mean missed opportunities, lost promotions—and even reduced income. Some of these consequences can be difficult to reverse, even after returning to work.
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