The American corporation was built by and for men. During the Industrial Era — a period of rapid urbanization and economic growth in the late 19th and early 20th century — men controlled nearly all of the nation’s major institutions. Women — barred from voting until 1920 — were expected to complete household duties and remain out of the public spheres of politics and business. Consequently, men shaped the social norms of the modern economy, molding it in their image in a way that met their particular needs. Because society had absolved men from household responsibilities, including child care, businessmen in the early 20th century were free to dedicate their time to their jobs and career aspirations. Although it became increasingly acceptable for women to seek employment outside the home after World War II, they entered business environments that were entirely unfriendly to their presence.

THE MALE-NORMATIVE WORKPLACE

While the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was supposed to prevent businesses from treating pregnant women differently from other employees that were “similar in their ability or inability to work,” it patently failed to change the reality of the business environment for women across the country. Although many believe that the problem no longer exists, research by The New York Times found that the number of pregnancy discrimination claims reported to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has actually been increasing for the last 20 years and is near its highest number ever. A 2007 Stanford study found that despite laws against pregnancy discrimination, mothers are routinely passed over for jobs, promotions, and salary increases. The research team sent hundreds of real-world hiring managers two resumes from equally-qualified women - one from a childless woman and one from a mother. The study found that these hiring managers were approximately twice as likely to invite the hypothetical childless woman in for an interview than the hypothetical mother - a phenomenon researcher Shelley Correll calls the “motherhood penalty.” 


In June 2019, dozens of America’s most prominent businesses admitted to this practice. In a full page ad published in The New York Times, executives from 80 companies including Bloomberg, H&M, Yelp, Square, Slack, Warby Parker, Tinder, and Kenneth Cole decried the state abortion bans being passed around the country. They bemoaned the fact that bans on abortion “hinder people's health, independence and ability to succeed in the workplace." Furthermore, they contended that banning abortion “impairs our ability to build diverse and inclusive workforce pipelines, recruit top talent across the states, and protect the well-being of all the people who keep our businesses thriving day in and out.” For these companies, pregnancy and motherhood are risks to their bottom line, making women less attractive as potential hires. Without abortion, they argue, women can never move into company leadership or succeed in the workplace. “If access to abortion is a necessity for me to be treated equally within these corporations,” notes CareNet writer Heather Creekmore, “equality has been redefined.” This is our economic reality. We as Americans must step back and ask ourselves: Is the real problem with women or the system in which they work?


Statistics show just how sexist the American work culture truly is. One 2019 study by Bright Horizons, a child care provider, found that 41% of surveyed workers “believe working mothers are less dedicated to their jobs” and 38% “frown on their needing more flexible hours.” Interestingly, this same standard was not applied to men with children; they were given greater amounts of grace and empathy. In fact, three-quarters of surveyed workers “thought working fathers were more devoted to their professions than their female counterparts.” The business culture still seems to underestimate the value of women in the workplace. This is despite the fact that women are assigned 55% of all work-related tasks yet were 10% more productive than their male counterparts. Sarah Hrdy, an anthropologist at the University of California - Davis, believes bias towards fathers is largely unfair. “There is much evidence to suggest that women are physiologically more durable than men and use their energy more efficiently,” she says, “especially perhaps when pregnant.”


Fear and discrimination has been internalized by pregnant women - many are aware that asking for accommodations, time off, or a promotion while pregnant or mothering could get them fired or taken off important projects. A 2014 survey by Childbirth Connection found that 42% of pregnant women that needed more breaks never asked their employers for them, and more than a quarter of new moms reported “experiencing bias from their employers due to perceptions of their ‘desire, ability or commitment’ to doing their jobs.” This double-standard for men and women is even worse for black mothers that do not want to abort their unborn children. A 2013 study by the Harvard Business School concluded that the expectations placed upon minority mothers were even more crushing than those placed upon white women:


Unlike White women who should sacrifice their focus and aspirations at work so that ‘something [won’t be] lost’ for their children, Black women should sacrifice their focus on their children so that the work that needs to get done will get done...The fact that White women are supposed to stay home and focus solely on their children while Black women are supposed to work outside the home and focus solely on their jobs implies that White children matter and Black children do not.

Although executives publicly celebrate diversity in the workplace, women are still expected to act like men if they are to grow in their careers. In male-normative spaces, pregnancy and motherhood are seen as drains on resources and hindrances to increased productivity. Instead of caring for women and accommodating the distinct differences they have from men, many businesses have determined that it is simply easier to coerce women into conforming to the image of the childless, career-obsessed man. Sadly, many female CEOs implement these same kind of policies to placate male executives or rebuff charges of “female favoritism.” Abortion is one of the tools used to oppress women in their motherhood and encourage them to maximize their “economic value” as workers. This is incredibly dehumanizing to women (and men) and evidences the power patriarchy continues to wield in corporate America. 

HELPING WORKING WOMEN FLOURISH

This is not a problem with women but with America’s business and consumer cultures. Although the capitalist system has brought millions out of poverty and spurred innovation in dozens of sectors, it incentivizes greed and materialism. In pursuit of profit, companies often force employees to lay life’s other joys and responsibilities at the altar of economic growth. Pregnancy begins to strike terror rather than excitement, cultivating anxiety instead of joy. Christians, however, are never to see children as a hindrance to happiness or success. The Bible tells us that babies are “a heritage from the Lord” and “a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3 NIV). Although we may feel powerless to change America’s business culture, there are several action steps we can take to help make abortion unthinkable and support pregnant women and working moms. 

  • Work with your small group or church to collect funds for a “working mothers” scholarship.
  • Help working mothers balance work and household responsibilities by offering to watch their children in a safe and loving environment. 
  • Encourage working fathers in your life to invest more time in their homes and rediscover the meaning and purpose of family.
  • Organize a writing campaign to decision-makers at local companies with HR policies that harm or intimidate pregnant women and mothers. 
  • Talk with your employer about ways your company can help all women, including pregnant women and working mothers, flourish within the organization.
  • Advocate for laws that create more just workplaces that honor and respect women, their bodies, and their families.

Abortion is not liberation from the “hindrance” of motherhood. It is a tool of oppression used to force working women to act like men. It strips them of their incredible ability to grow and give birth to the next generation of human beings. It reinforces misogyny and patriarchal attitudes while declaring that the male body is the ideal body. A Christian worldview sees men and women as distinct yet equal in dignity and worth, fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. As advocates of women, work, and family, Christians should challenge the structures that make the God-given gifts of pregnancy and childbearing “liabilities.” By supporting vulnerable families we know personally and championing policies that dignify working women and their children, we can show Jesus’ love in both word and deed.


Garrett Clawson
Garrett serves as the Lead Data and Research Analyst and joined For the City in February 2018. He helps volunteers, pastors, nonprofit leaders, and business professionals better understand the characteristics and dynamics of their communities so that they can more effectively pursue human flourishing together. Garrett earned his master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Texas - Austin and continues to live in North Austin.