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Allyship against interpersonal pregnancy discrimination: exploring observers’ spontaneous responses toward pregnancy self-disclosure, interpersonal discrimination and male allyship

Meg Aum Warren (College of Business and Economics, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington, USA)
Haley Bock (College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington, USA)
Tejvir Sekhon (College of Business and Economics, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington, USA)
Katie Winkelman (Independent Researcher, Bellingham, Washington, USA)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 3 May 2024

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Abstract

Purpose

Pregnant employees experience considerable interpersonal discrimination. This study explores the range of possible reactions of observers to pregnancy self-disclosure, interpersonal discrimination and various allyship interventions, and the attentional processes that lead to those reactions. Consequently, it uncovers socio-cognitive processes underlying support for and backlash toward pregnancy in the workplace.

Design/methodology/approach

This study used a thought-listing technique to explore observers’ spontaneous thoughts related to pregnancy. Working adults were randomly assigned to read through one of the six scenarios depicting pregnancy self-disclosure, interpersonal discrimination and male allyship interventions (i.e. stating the organization’s anti-discrimination policy, confronting the transgressor by calling out sexism, pivoting the conversation to highlight the strengths of the pregnant employee and a hybrid intervention combining highlighting strengths and confrontation) after which participants listed the top three thoughts that came to their mind (1,668 responses). Responses were thematically analyzed to explore spontaneous reactions toward the pregnant employee, transgressor and ally in the scenario.

Findings

Surprisingly, across all scenarios, the most sexist thoughts emerged during pregnancy self-disclosure, even in the absence of any transgression. After a transgression occurred, any allyship intervention was better than none in eliciting lesser sexist backlash against the pregnant employee. Stating the organization’s anti-discrimination policy was most beneficial for the pregnant employee in eliciting the least sexist backlash but at the cost of generating unfavorable impressions of the ally. Calling out the transgressor’s bias elicited the most sexist backlash toward the pregnant employee, yet it created favorable impressions of the ally. In contrast, highlighting the strengths of the pregnant employee created the most favorable impression of the ally while eliciting a few sexist thoughts about the pregnant employee. Overall, the hybrid intervention was the most effective at balancing the competing goals of generating support for the pregnant employee, creating favorable impressions of the ally, as well as holding the transgressor accountable.

Originality/value

This study demonstrates that the type of allyship intervention critically redirects the attentional focus of observers to certain aspects of a discrimination episode and relevant schemas which can generate support or backlash toward targets, transgressors and allies, thereby advancing or obstructing equity and inclusion in organizations.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Meg Aum Warren, Haley Bock and Tejvir Sekhon contributed equally to the paper.

Special thanks to Leslie Aguilar for administrative support. This project would not be possible without funding from Western Washington University.

Citation

Warren, M.A., Bock, H., Sekhon, T. and Winkelman, K. (2024), "Allyship against interpersonal pregnancy discrimination: exploring observers’ spontaneous responses toward pregnancy self-disclosure, interpersonal discrimination and male allyship", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/EDI-11-2022-0332

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024, Emerald Publishing Limited

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