New Moms Say Countering Stereotypes Can Add to Workplace Stress

The American Psychological Association says women are more stressed at work.

March 7, 2013 — -- A new survey released Tuesday found that more women than men in the U.S. report higher levels of work stress, with some women saying that extra stress came from countering the stereotypes surrounding mothers in the workplace.

The results of the annual survey by the American Psychological Association found that 32 percent of women said employers didn't provide enough opportunities for internal advancement, compared with 30 percent of men who said the same thing.

Out of the 1,501 employed adults surveyed online, 32 percent of the women said they received sufficient monetary compensation for their work, compared with 48 percent of employed men. Women found another level of stress if they had families, even if it just came from a "stereotype threat," as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Pilar Clark, a blogger on the parenting website, which is owned by the Walt Disney Co., the parent company of ABC News, said many women felt added stress from the minute they announced they were pregnant.

"It's ridiculous, but there is real fear of losing your job throughout a pregnancy that creates an enormous amount of stress and tension," said Clark, who lives in Lisle, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, and has two children.

While the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission prohibit discrimination against expectant mothers or discrimination on the basis of gender, Clark said employers can still find ways to replace a mother on maternity leave.

"After all, the mother is not there to defend her position as a hardworking member of the team, and all colleagues may see -- especially if they aren't married or don't have children yet -- is someone slacking for a few months and creating a lot more work for them," Clark said.

Clark, 32, said when a new mother returns to the office, there may be "eye rolls" over what is deemed to be special treatment, which might include a flex schedule, telecommuting, leaving early to take care of a sick child.

"The moment you misstep ... it's chalked up to being the result of new distractions at home that obviously make you less efficient and functional in the workplace. Oftentimes, it's the furthest thing possible from the truth, and it's so demeaning. As a new mother, I often worked longer hours than my colleagues, arriving at the office long before it was officially open for business, and then hopped on the computer again at night to make sure that all my bases were covered. However, who sees that? Apparently, no one wants to," said Clark.

"I know I stressed about breaking the news to my boss when I was pregnant with my first child, mainly fearing that I would be treated differently or all of sudden deemed less able to do my job on par with my nonpregnant self," Clark, said.

When Clark became pregnant with her first child in 2006, she said she was allowed one month of maternity leave. Her mother planned to take care of her new son during the day while her husband worked nearby. Even though Clark's commute was more than two hours, she said she was "confident that things would run smoothly," she said.

"And they did, but only on the home front end of things. At work, I returned to resentment," she said.

Clark said she was initially allowed a flexible schedule, meaning she could work from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. instead of the usual 9 to 5.

"I was expected to be on call via cell phone at all times and automatically consider my flex schedule null and void in case of any meetings, no matter how spur of the moment the planning," she said.

But she said she was warned by her boss and human resources that if any colleagues protested her new working arrangements, deemed them "unfair" or questioned Clark's work ethic, they could be revoked.

"And of course, that happened. Another woman I worked with found my schedule discriminatory against her, since she was neither married nor a parent. And that was that," she said. "My boss called me into his office one day, told me I couldn't be supermom and that I would have to choose: him and the team or my son."

Read more: How Young Working Women Really Feel About Working Moms

Clark's asking -- and for a while getting -- a flex-time arrangement was not that typical. According to the American Psychological Association's survey, only 37 percent of women reported regularly using employee benefits designed to help them meet demands outside the office, compared with almost half of men (46 percent) and only 38 percent of women said they regularly used flexible work arrangements, compared with 42 percent of men

"I remember being absolutely flabbergasted, but at that moment, the choice was easy," Clark said.

Clark chose her son and began working from home as a freelance writer and social media strategist.

"I've been fortunate to have success in my endeavors, but I know it doesn't work out as well for many other mothers in my position," she said.