Mother’s Day Gift Buying Guide

SOURCE: Public Domain Pictures

Searching for that perfect Mother’s Day gift this year?  My suggestion is some reading material, all of which you can find here.  So go ahead and share this with loved ones this weekend.

Gift Idea #1:  Workplace Tips for Mom-to-Be

There’s the study “Professional Image Maintenance: How Women Navigate Pregnancy in the Workplace.” By Laura M. Little, Virginia Smith Major, Amanda S. Hinojosa, and Debra L. Nelson recently published in the Academy of Management Journal.

The authors were interested in understanding professional image maintenance at work. More specifically, they asked how employees sought to managing others’ perceptions of them, the better to maintain a viable professional image. In one of their three studies presented in the paper, they interviewed a sample of 35 mostly white, pregnant or recently pregnant working women employed in a range of jobs. The question they posed was this:  How does pregnancy affect working women’s professional experiences?

By and large, interviews revealed that pregnant women actively engage in “image maintenance.”  They actively attempt to manage others’ perceptions and reactions to their pregnancy in order to preserve the professional image they had before revealing their pregnancy.  Interviewees felt this image maintenance was necessary in order to avoid being stereotyped as “delicate” or “cute” or “irresponsible”—all of which have negative implications for their professional image and careers. Others cited the need to ensure that others did not see them as more likely to quit (which would have reduced their changes of winning good job assignments, promotions, etc.). How did these women do this?

In several ways.  The most common method of image maintenance, used by about 60% of their sample, was to “keep up” or essentially maintain their pre-pregnancy pace of work.  As they noted, women with a normal pregnancy found this to be of little challenge.  But others had pregnancies that made them nauseous and tired around the clock.  For these latter women, maintaining the same pace was a challenge, requiring extra effort.

About half of the pregnant women indicated their image maintenance strategy was to avoid asking for accommodation or special assistance from their supervisors or coworkers even if they needed it.  These women declined assistance and never asked for special treatment.

Over a third (36%) said they tried to hide their pregnancy as long as possible. Almost one-fifth (18%) downplayed their pregnancy by not discussing it or emphasizing it (with clothing, etc.)

Fifteen percent of the pregnant women in their study said they tried to work harder—go the extra mile to prove their competency and maintain their professional image. Another 15% said they asked their supervisor for a shorter maternity leave than they were entitled to.

Bottom line, the pregnant women appear to work harder in various ways than their non-pregnant selves.  These behaviors contradict the negative perceptions (some) employers have about pregnant women and mothers. They also show how difficult it can be for women to claim the benefits and accommodations they are legally due.

Gift Idea #2: A Guide to Pregnancy Rights at Work

Or maybe you are looking for a simple guide to the rights of pregnant workers (and some rights of their partners).  Here’s one.   The guide identifies eight rights that pregnant women have at work, including things like the right to work in a setting where you are not subjected to repeated insults or comments that create a hostile or offensive work environment.  Likewise, this guide explains that an employer cannot reassign a pregnant woman to a “less risky” or “easier” job out of (unfounded, non-medically demonstrated) concerns for her health.

Gift Idea #3:  A Relocation Guide

Maybe the mother (or soon-to-be) mother in your life is considering moving.  This gift can aid her in identifying where in the world she can find support for combining work and childrearing (and this includes places that assist men in doing the same).

The World Policy Forum (WFP) provides detailed information on policies related to marriage, gender, and childhood for all countries, worldwide.   In addition to being a great resource for researchers and policymakers, it also helps those curious to learn which countries do things like helping a mother or father take time off after the birth of a child, and actually encourage fathers to join in childcare duties.

Based on my own analysis of these data, here are some interesting facts.

WFP gathered data on whether a country’s paid leave was structured to incentivize working fathers to share in fact caregiving responsibilities.  Countries were scored: 0=no paid leave for father, 1=parental leave allowed, but no incentive, 2=two weeks or less for fathers, 3=more than 2 weeks leave for fathers, 4=leave length or pay bonus for a father who shared leave with a mother.

Take a look. Portugal, Italy, Sweden, Finland, and Japan all get the highest score.  The score for the United States? Zero.

Also recorded was information on simple paid leave for the parents of infants.  See here.  As you can see,  it’s easier to type the countries that provide NO paid leave for parents—the United States Papua New Guinea, and Suriname—than it is to list those that provide leave for either mothers, fathers, or both (EVERY OTHER COUNTRY IN THE WORLD).

What about the level of wage support for paid parental leave?

Outside of the U.S., Papua New Guinea, and Suriname, every other country in the world provides at minimum a flat or adjusted rate (which the World Policy Forum defines as a policy that provides all mothers with the same amount while taking paid leave, regardless of their previous salary). One country, China, uses an adjusted flat rate which is set at the level of the average wage of the company a mother works for). A majority of countries have wage replacement rates of between 85-100% of a worker’s previous wage.

Finally, the World Policy Forum compiled data on the guarantee of breastfeeding breaks at work, requiring that a workplace provide at least unpaid time for a mother to feed her child or express breast milk.

The map shows the U.S. guarantees up to six months (unpaid) meanwhile about 35 countries offer no guarantees.

Maybe you’re not the Mother’s Day gift-buying type.

That’s OK.  You can read about people who buy Mother’s Day gifts.

In their 2013 piece “Prescriptions and Punishments for Working Moms: How Race and Work Status Affect Judgments of Mothers,” Amy J.C. Cuddy and Elizabeth Bailey Wolf add to conversations about the motherhood wage penalty by considering whether people judge black and white mothers the same and how these working mothers are perceived at home.

After discussing evidence of the motherhood wage penalty at work, the authors explained that working mothers also face prejudice at home—in their role as mothers—but that the content of this home-based prejudice was different for black and white mothers because of race and sex-based status expectations (white women are expected to stay home and raise children whereas black mother, dating back to slavery, are supposed to participate in the labor force).  In other words, they hypothesized there would be a race-based double-standard in the evaluation of employed versus stay-at-home mothers.

To test this hypothesis, the authors performed an experiment in which they asked participants about how much they would spend on a Mother’s Day gift.  Specifically, just prior to Mother’s Day, participants (who thought they were participating in a short survey of opinions about Mother’s Day gift-giving) were randomly assigned to one of the four conditions: black working mother, black stay-at home mother, white working mother, or white stay-at-home mother.  All participants read that the mother had a husband and two young children.  They read that the husband is taking the children to pick out a Mother’s Day gift and were asked how much the husband and children should spend on the gift.

Cuddy and Wolf found a significant relationship between the suggested price of the gift and a mother’s race and employment status.  Participants recommended a somewhat more expensive gift for the black working mother than for the black stay-at-home mother, and a slightly less expensive gift for the white working mother than for the white stay-at-home mother.  What is more, participants recommended a vastly more expensive gift for the white stay-at-home mother than for the black stay-at-home mother.

In short, their findings reveal a different set of pressures for white and black mothers.  That a black employed mother is evaluated more positively than a black mother who stays home yet a white employed mother is evaluated less positively than a white stay-at-home mother implies that participants (and society) view a white woman’s place as in the home –and a black woman’s place at paid employment, outside the home.  These findings are distressing, and reveal worrying racial differences in the way motherhood and working are perceived and valued.

Happy Mother’s Day!

2 comments
  1. erinlkelly said:

    Great piece, Julie. I had somehow missed the Cuddy & Bailey piece and was looking for analysis of motherhood stereotypes by race. So thank you for that lead, as well as your work to share excellent gender, work, and family scholarship with us all.

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