The results show that perceptions of competence, whether in the work or family domain, were never boosted, but only impaired, by the maternity leave decision.
If a new study is to be believed, availing of maternal leave puts women in a Catch-22 situation. Women are judged negatively if they choose to take maternity leave and equally badly if they work on.
In the University of Exeter study of workers’ attitudes, mothers who took time off to care for babies were seen as less committed and competent at work. Meanwhile, those who continued working were viewed as less caring parents.
The results suggested women are “damned” either way, according to lead author Thekla Morgenroth. “This is a no-win situation for women?” she said.
Morgenroth noted that the results show that perceptions of competence, whether in the work or family domain, were never boosted, but only impaired, by the maternity leave decision. Both decisions had negative consequences, albeit in different domains.
Availing of maternal leave puts women in a Catch-22 situation.
“It is important to have policies which allow women to balance work and family life, but it’s also important to understand people’s use of these policies may have unintended consequences,” added Morgenroth.
The study examined the attitudes of 137 women and 157 men, all employed, mostly from the US and the UK. Three groups of participants were given information about a fictional woman. The only difference between the information was whether the woman had chosen to take maternity leave.
In one version she had taken leave, in another she had continued working, and in a third (control group) the issue was not mentioned.
Participants were then asked to evaluate the woman as a worker and a parent with negative family results for a woman who kept working, and negative working results for a woman who took maternity leave.
The majority of participants were working full-time (70%) and had no children (71%). The average age of participants was 33 years.
The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.