How Good Intentions Hold Pregnant Workers Back

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No matter how easy or tough the pregnancy, becoming a parent represents a vast lifestyle change for just about anyone. When the news is finally out, people everywhere usually want to help — if you're lucky, on the bus, around the house, and at work. We want generosity to redound as it's intended, but unfortunately, it's not always an unadulterated good.

Psychologists at Rice University have just released a study looking at some subtle connections between how a pregnant worker is treated on the job and whether they're likely to return to that job. The study is not huge (105 participants), but the results are worth chewing over: When coworkers tried to "be helpful" to pregnant people at work, such as by "trying to shield them from unpleasant news, giving them easier tasks, or assigning them lighter workloads," pregnant workers felt less confident about their workplace abilities and about themselves.

Even after maternity leave, workers who had been "babied" by their colleagues were less likely to return to their positions. Benevolent sexism, unfortunately, is still sexism. It's one more factor that drives women out of the workforce, alongside punitive and difficult breastfeeding policies and office cultures, outrageous childcare costs, and insufficient support for parental leave. In fact, the one thing that can keep new parents happiest at work is the one that actually requires the least amount of effort: Treat them well. Demonstrating to new parents that they're still adults who are part of the team will go a long, long way toward retaining that talent.