Gender Bias Towards Pregnant Executives

Becoming a mom is undoubtedly life changing. With the joys of motherhood come enormous responsibilities and trade-offs. However, becoming pregnant and building a family should not deprive women of equal opportunities in the work place. It is unlawful for an employer to fire, demote or otherwise poorly treat a woman simply because she is pregnant.

Although women are faced with difficult decisions about how to navigate parenthood, those decisions are theirs alone. It is wrong for an employer to reduce a women's responsibilities based her gender or status as a parent.

Additionally, an employer may violate discrimination laws if they:

  • Demote before, during or immediately following maternity leave;
  • Wrongfully terminate before, during or following maternity leave;
  • Remove responsibilities;• Interfere with FMLA or paid maternity leave; or
  • Other discriminatory treatment.

The attitude that hard working mothers are incapable of succeeding on the same level as their childless peers has exacted large costs for mothers in the workplace both economically, physically, and socially. By one estimate, on average, having a child will cost a high skilled woman $230,000 in lost lifetime wages as compared to an equally skilled woman who never has children. Additionally, during their pregnancy, many women choose their work at the risk of their personal health and the health of their babies because they fear that requesting accommodations will adversely affect their careers. Other women simply do not have a choice and are not provided with accommodations.

Recent Wall Street discrimination lawsuits exemplify the challenges female executives face and the need for action. For example, Kelley Voelker, a former Deutsche Bank vice president brought two lawsuits against her former employer for sex discrimination. In September 2011, she brought claims against Deutsche Bank alleging that, among other things, she was demoted and harassed solely because of her pregnancy and her gender. In September 2012, she filed a follow up case for retaliation alleging that Deutsche Bank fired her as a result of filing the 2011 discrimination lawsuit.

Voelker worked as a vice president in securities lending with Deutsche Bank for fourteen years. She alleges that she experienced great adversity in the workplace after becoming pregnant. Similar to the experience of many working women, Voelker claims that despite her "exemplary performance," when she returned from maternity leave, members of the bank requested the she take a reduced role. Voelker told ABC News, "I worked extremely hard and, as a working mom, I sacrificed so much. I just wanted to be treated equally and no different than my male colleagues."

Female executives who have been given reduced roles, or otherwise harassed or discriminated against due to their pregnancy may have legal recourse. Furthermore, because of their positions of power they can have a considerable impact both in terms of changing institutional discrimination and cultural gender bias. The manipulation of pregnant women will only change if, with support of family and friends, women who are wronged in the workplace take the initiative to pursue legal action.