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Oklahoma State University

Spears School’s Debra Nelson wins Best Article in Academy of Management Journal

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Professor of management Debra Nelson

Oklahoma State University management professor Debra Nelson and her coauthors were honored with Best Article in the Academy of Management Journal for their research paper, “Professional Image Maintenance: How Women Navigate Pregnancy in the Workplace.”

The award is presented to the article that best exemplifies original, insightful, interesting, important, and theoretically bold research. Nelson and her colleagues conducted four studies of pregnant women in the workplace and found that pregnant women actually work harder to maintain their professional images.

“Our article dispels many of the stereotypes people have about pregnancy in the workplace, including the assumption that women feel entitled to accommodations from employers,” Nelson said. “Instead, we found that in all four samples, pregnant women worked even harder to maintain their professional images. Women’s own identities didn’t change, but instead they sensed that their bosses, peers and customers’ perceptions of them had changed.  To combat the negative stereotypes, women engaged in image maintenance strategies like maintaining their productivity, going the extra mile and taking shorter maternity leaves. Women who did so experienced less burnout and a reduced sense of being discriminated against.”

These image maintenance behaviors come at a cost. Having to devote energy to combatting negative stereotypes drains energy away from other important activities. The finding that 80 percent of pregnant women experience threats their professional identities means that companies have a lot of work to do in changing other people's views of pregnant workers.

Nelson’s article was also recognized as one of five finalists for the prestigious Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research.

The award is a joint project of the Center for Families at Purdue University and the Boston College Center for Work and Family. The purpose of the award is to raise awareness of work-family research, foster debate about the standards of quality, and identifies individuals on which to base future research. A committee of more than 60 leading scholars from 10 countries examined 2500 articles published in 82 journals around the world to eventually narrow the selection down to five finalists. Selected papers must have strong connections to theoretical schools of thought, large sample sizes, detailed data and demonstrate creativity.

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