Anita A. Keller

Discrimination in the Workplace Due to Family Responsibilities

Anita Keller is a recent Liberal Arts and Sciences graduate from Indiana University South Bend, with a Bachelors Degree in Psychology. She wrote this paper for the advanced lab course, P421, taught by Catherine Borshuk and Kevin Ladd. "Professor Ladd was a tremendous help to me on this paper during my time in his class. I was interested in the topic of discrimination in the workplace due to family responsibilities, because I myself have a family. I have experienced discrimination in the workplace due to my responsibilities with my family. I am happily married to my supportive husband, Tom, and we have a wonderful daughter named Madison. Tom and I are expecting our second child in early October".

Communicated By: Dr. Catherine Borshuk, Psychology

  • Abstract

    Research was conducted to see if women and men experienced differential discrimination in the workplace due to their family responsibilities. Thirty people from Indiana University South Bend participated in the research study (15 adult women and 15 adult men). Each participant had a job and at least one child. The participants read 5 different scenarios that portrayed discrimination in the workplace with regards to family responsibilities, and they responded with a yes or no response depending on whether or not the participant had experienced something similar to the scenario or not. The results showed a significant difference between the two groups. As predicted the results showed that women (M = 1.43, SD = 0.37) experienced more discrimination in the workplace due to their family responsibilities than did men (M = 1.85, SD = 0.24), t = (28) = 3.59, p 0.05.

  • Article

    Women and men both have been balancing their careers and their families for a long time. Some women decide to go back to work after their children are born while their husbands remain working. In other families, sometimes the man stays home while the woman goes back to work after the child is born. Many women and men have to go back to work after the child is born due to the financial situation in the family. When a parent goes back to work after the child is born, the parent may experience some kind of discrimination in the workplace due to the individual's family responsibilities.

    Parents may feel that missing work due to the family responsibilities of the household may cause some experiences of discrimination at the workplace; this is what is to be measured. The experiences of discrimination can come from the individuals employer or the individuals co-workers. The employer might not understand that the person is missing work due to their family responsibilities. Employers or co-workers who do not have children of their own may be particularly unsympathetic to an individual who misses work due to their family responsibilities.

    Freeman (1990) examined 40 women in management positions who spoke openly to her about their lives, the challenges of their careers, and their changing conceptions of themselves. The women interviewed ranged in age from early twenties to late fifties, and they all represented diverse ethnic backgrounds and different class backgrounds. What the women shared was commitment to their careers and desire to meet their personal and professional goals. Freeman examined both individual change and corporate adaptation. She observed from the responses that womens scarcity in top executive positions was due not to womens contrary psychological needs or personal shortcomings but rather to obstacles and other persistent discrimination. According to Freeman, the policies and practices of most corporate organizations still assume the presence of a full-time wife at home tending to the domestic needs of the male employee.

    Another study (Konrad & Cannings 1997) has some relation to the research being conducted. The participants of the study were adult women and men. The data were collected in two large business firms. The researchers had the participants fill out questionnaires that dealt with managerial advancement for both men and women. The researchers asked questions dealing with advancement for both sexes within the workplace. They found that participating in household labor hurt men's advancement in the workplace. The researchers also examined those women who were in management positions. The women were viewed with suspicion and their commitment and competence was over-tested. The studies deal with experiences of discrimination due to an individuals family responsibilities.

    An additional research study (Boggs 1999) revealed that men and women were treated differently in the workplace. Boggs describes the theoretical basis of a model suggesting that sex discrimination is reinforced by the interaction of social identity and communication practices. Boggs collected data to test the models usefulness in describing the dynamics of male firefighters resistance to gender integration of their job title. Interviews and observations conducted at five California fire departments were examined. Responses came from 164 male firefighters who supported the models key predictions. Organizational practice was examined to predict mens level of negative concerns about the workplace status of males, as well as perceptions of workplace gender-related behavior.

    Browne (1998) conducted a research study that used career-holding participants who were both men and women. Some of the participants came from the same employers while others came from different employers. Browne interviewed 50 participants outside of their workplaces to lessen any biases. He concluded that majority of the women in the study felt that they made less money than the men even though all of the employee incomes were confidential. The men in the study commented that there were no gender differences within their workplace.

    The research design at hand involves 30 participants of 15 men and 15 women who balance both careers and children. The participants read 5 short scenarios dealing with experiences of discrimination in the workplace due to family responsibilities. The participants answer yes or no to the scenarios depending on whether or not they have experienced something similar to the scenario. The rationale that links the study and the research design is that having this design is an appropriate way to measure ones level of discrimination from ones workplace. With the use of these certain participants, it will be accurate research and a reliable study.

    There are a few theoretical limitations to the study being conducted. The first is that the participants cannot be randomly chosen. The research being conducted needs men and women participants who balance both careers and children. The reason these types of participants are so important is so that the research is accurate. Only men and women who have careers and children know if they experience such discrimination or not. Another practical limitation is that the sample size of the study can only be small. The research must be done within only 15 weeks, that is not a great deal of time to find a large number of participants to be involved in the study.

    This research study is being conducted to see if people experience discrimination in the workplace for parents who balance both careers and families. The hypothesis is that women perceive that they experience more discrimination in the workplace due to their family responsibilities than men do.



    The participants for the research were Introductory Psychology students from Indiana University in South Bend (15 adult females and 15 adult males) all of whom had both careers and children. They were provided with extra credit for their participation in the study.


    Participants encountered a questionnaire with 5 different scenarios. The scenarios portrayed discrimination from the workplace due to an individuals family responsibilities. For example: "Jane had to miss work due to her childs chickenpox. When Jane returned to work, her boss called her in his office and told her that she should really try not to miss work. He then told her that she would have to stay two hours later than usual due to the work that she had missed on the previous day." The participant then answered a yes or no response to the scenario if she or he had experienced something similar to the scenario or not (See Appendix A).


    The participants filled out the questionnaires in a classroom setting. When the participants entered the room, they were given the informed consent form. Each participant read the form and then signed it. They received an additional copy of this form for themselves. The participants then read and filled out the questionnaire. After they completed the questionnaire, they were given a receipt for their participation so they would receive their extra credit for their introductory psychology course. The participants also received a debriefing statement, which stated what the research study was about.


    A t-test was used to see if there was a difference between the group of men and women in terms of discrimination they had experienced in the workplace due to family responsibilities. As predicted, the women (M = 1.43, SD = 0.37) experienced more discrimination in the workplace due to their family responsibilities than did the men (M = 1.85, SD = 0.24), t = (28) = 3.59, p 0.05.


    The results supported the hypothesis that women reported more discrimination in the workplace due to their family responsibilities than did men. This finding supports Freeman (1900) and contributes to current knowledge within this area of research. Freeman argued that womens scarcity in top executive positions was not due to personal shortcomings but rather to obstacles and to other persistent discrimination. The findings of the current research support the work done by Freeman showing more reports of discrimination by women concerning their workplace.

    In contrast to the findings at hand, Kannings and Conrad (1997) concluded that men in management who choose to participate more fully in their family situations were penalized at the workplace such as with advancement. The current research findings differed because the findings reported that women expressed more experiences of discrimination than the men. Further research may also show a general discrimination against women more than men in regards to other situations besides just family responsibilities.


    For this study to be replicated there are some limitations within the current research to be addressed. First, it is advisable that the questionnaire contains more than just a yes or no response (e.g. undecided). The reason for this is because a scenario that the respondent may read may not pertain to them therefore they will not be forced to answer between just a yes or no answer. By having to answer yes or no to a question that did not pertain to the participant can effect the results.

    For a researcher to replicate this study it would be of benefit to him or her to include an item about the age of the respondent's child. The age of the respondent's child was not addressed in the current research study. Some of the items on the questionnaire dealt primarily with parents who had school age children. If the respondent had a baby, a toddler, or children grown and out of the house, the respondent may have experienced some discrimination within their place of work but those particular questions about school age children did not apply to them therefore they were forced to answer no. By being forced to answer a question that did not pertain to the respondent would in fact effect the results.


    There are many implications not only for researchers but also for employed women, employed men, their families, and the employers. If there was research done to see if the employers had children, this could be of importance when looking at discrimination in the workplace due to family responsibilities. Employers may be more understanding of someones family responsibilities if they each had a family of their own. Another implication may be to look at the field of which the respondent is employed. If a woman is employed in a traditionally male dominated field of work such as plumbing, construction, or being a police officer, the employer may judge her concerning her role with her family. The employer may expect her to be fully committed to her workplace and not to let her family responsibilities affect her work.

    An item that the researcher may want to include could be about how many children the respondents have. There may be a difference in the discrimination that an individual faces depending on the amount of children they have. If a respondent only has one young child that child will get sick occasionally, the parent will have to miss a day or two of work but if the respondent has six young children there may be more illnesses which equals more missed days of work. This is where the researcher may see more experiences in discrimination.

    Finally, a longer questionnaire may be more beneficial to research. The current research questionnaire only had five short scenarios. A longer questionnaire may be able to get results that are more precise.

    According to the research conducted, women felt that they had experienced more discrimination in the workplace due to their family responsibilities than the male respondents did. For future research to be conducted in such an area it is advisable that a longer questionnaire be provided. This questionnaire would also provide more accurate results if the respondent could have another choice for an answer besides just a yes or no response. If the respondent could answer with a maybe then this might ensure more precise results.

  • Appendices

    Appendix A

    Workplace Experiences Questionnaire

    The following questionnaire has five different scenarios dealing with different social attitudes. Please answer yes or no to the following scenarios depending on whether or not you have experienced something similar to the scenario. Please answer yes if you have experienced something similar to the scenario or no if you have never experienced anything even remotely similar to the scenario. Please circle your answer.

    Scenario 1
    Jane has to be absent from work for two days due to her child having chickenpox. When she returns to work her boss calls her in his office. He tells her that she really should try not to be absent from work unless it is a real emergency. He then tells her that she will have to stay two hours later for the next three days to make-up the work that she has missed. Yes or No

    Scenario 2
    Sues childs principal calls her at work. He explains to her that her child has been in a fight with another student and that she must come and get him. The principal then explains to Sue that her child is suspended for one week starting immediately. Sue hangs up the phone with the principal and goes to her bosss office. She explains to her boss the situation and asks for one week off work. Her boss then explains to her that she should find someone else to watch her child during that week or she should make other arrangements for work. Yes or No

    Scenario 3
    You just had a baby and decide that six weeks off work is not long enough. You ask your employer for more time and he refuses. Have you or your spouse ever experienced this? Yes or No

    Scenario 4
    Your child asks you if you remembered about her/his sporting event scheduled for later in the day. You in fact did. When you arrive at work you ask your boss if you can leave early for it and she says no. Yes or No

    Scenario 5
    You plan on going camping with your family over the weekend, but when leaving work on Friday evening your boss tells you that you have to work both Saturday and Sunday. Yes or No

  • References
    • Boggs, C. (1999). Equal Employment Opportunity, Communication Accommodation Climate and Gender Structuration of Organizations: Development and Test of Model for Understanding the Dynamics of Male Resistance to Workplace Gender Integration. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities & Social Sciences, 59, 2249.
    • Browne, K. P. (1998). Divided Labours: An Evolutionary View of Women at Work. Darwinism Today, 70.
    • Freeman, S. J. (1990). Managing Lives: Corporate Women and Social Change. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.
    • Konrad, A. M., & Cannings K. (1997). The Effects of Gender Role Congruence and Statistical Discrimination on Managerial Advancement. Human Relations, 50, 1035-1328.