To test for pregnancy-related bias, ‘swap the baby’

Recently a San Francisco-based entrepreneur sparked a flurry of online comments when he wrote about his co-founder’s experiences “fundraising while pregnant,” among venture capitalists, who are overwhelmingly male.

pregnant businesswoman

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As they weighed whether she and her company were a good risk, the investors “scrupulously avoided” referring to her by-then obvious pregnancy — which was nevertheless “foremost in their minds,” the entrepreneur wrote.

Berkeley psychology professor Tania Lombrozo describes this incident in a new piece about pregnancy- and parent-related prejudice. Because of strong beliefs about the role that mothers ought to play in raising babies, many are “skeptical that the demands of a start-up are compatible with those of a baby,” she writes.

To help expose assumptions creeping into this equation, Lombrozo proposes a test: “When faced with a question about pregnancy, mothers or babies, swap the baby” for another time-intensive commitment (such as launching a second startup), and then see how you think about the person’s ability to juggle multiple demands.

“Maybe caregiving is a social good that deserves a special status,” she writes. “…Or maybe we should be more accommodating of alternative, non-parental pursuits. This is a conversation worth having.”

Read her post on the NPR blog “13.7 cosmos & culture.”