New research finds that many women face sexist comments and microaggressions at work during their pregnancy. 

According to a new study conducted by researchers at London South Bank University, around half of women surveyed felt that taking maternity leave had a negative impact on their career.

In particular, many respondents – all of whom were in the workplace prior to taking maternity leave – reported facing sexist comments and being treated differently by their peers as a result of their pregnancy.

This included comments such as being told they had a “preggy brain”, referencing forgetfulness or mental fog that can be a side-effect of pregnancy.

In addition, male counterparts were found to be treating their pregnant colleagues differently – despite often working the same roles.

Female senior managers surveyed stated that, due to their pregnancy, they were treated more like a personal assistant or a “coffee lady”.

This ultimately had a negative effect on respondents’ self-esteem with over a third seeing a significant decline in this area.

Furthermore, despite employees being entitled to reasonable time off with full pay for pregnancy-related appointments, the respondents also said they faced negative comments for attending these appointments.

All of this was said to have a direct impact on the remuneration received by pregnant employees with this group stating they were refused pay bonuses and promotions, hurting their chance at career progression.

This latest research adds more evidence onto what is now becoming a growing investigation into discrimination targeted at working mothers at all stages of their careers, whether that is prior to or following the birth.

Previous research showed that working mothers faced a “motherhood penalty” with women earning almost half (45 per cent) of what their salary would have otherwise been without having children, in the first six years after giving birth.

The pandemic has also had a detrimental impact on working mothers with as many as two-thirds struggling with a lack of childcare over the summer months, leading to reduced hours and many being forced to take unpaid leave to look after their children.

Dr Yehia Nawar at London South Bank University, who led the research, stated:

All women that gave feedback about maternity said that, since they became pregnant, men in their companies had treated them differently.

The most common microaggressions were discriminatory comments about the women having a “preggy brain” when doing their work or comments about their pregnancy. But there are also negative assumptions made about taking additional time off work upon return and being less available to attend meetings or conferences.

Microaggressions, discriminations, harassments, inequalities, stereotypes, prejudice, organisational culture and maternity are destroying the women’s career prospects.


*This study was conducted by researchers at London South Bank University who surveyed 104 respondents to obtain these results. These findings will be presented at the British Academy of Management online annual conference.