Perceiving and responding to maternal workplace discrimination in the United States

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Despite recent gains, mothers in the United States still face a set of challenges in achieving full equality in the labor market, including subjective discrimination, or perceived unfair treatment from their employers. Using original data from 54 qualitative interviews of predominantly middle class, heterosexual women involved in national mothers' groups, this analysis first finds that whether currently working for pay or not, mothers perceive and label a variety of past employment experiences as discriminatory. This is primarily because in their status as mothers, they are seen as not meeting the ideal worker standard of performance nor as capable as non-mothers by their employers. Mothers report events under the categories of moment of hire, on-the-job, and evaluations/promotions related bias, with on-the-job incidents most common. Second, this analysis builds on previous work that has focused on mothers' extreme reactions such as opting out of work completely and filing lawsuits by mapping out three, intermediate responses to this subjective discrimination: ambivalence, endurance, or confrontation. Endurance was the most frequently deployed response strategy overall and for each of the three categories of discrimination. None of these three strategies, unfortunately, functions to promote broad-based organizational reform that would integrate mothers more equitably into the workplace.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-202
Number of pages11
JournalWomen's Studies International Forum
StatePublished - Sep 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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