Report Finds Pregnancy Discrimination Still Exists

Pregnancy-related discrimination remains a major challenge for employers.

Thousands of women in the UK lose or leave their jobs each year because of pregnancy-related discrimination. A recent study found that one in nine new mothers have either been dismissed, made compulsorily redundant when others in their workplace were not or have been treated so badly that they felt compelled to leave their place of work.

If the findings of the report, which encompassed over 3,000 employers and over 3,000 mothers, is reflective of the UK workforce as a whole, then those figures translate as roughly 54,000 new mothers a year losing their jobs.

One in five mothers polled claimed to have experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer and/or colleagues. Again, if those figures are to reflect the UK workforce as a whole, that would mean as many as 100,000 mothers each year.

Furthermore, 10% said that their employer discouraged them from attending antenatal appointments.

The report, commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, specifically focused on the prevalence and nature of discrimination and disadvantage in the workplace, covering pregnant women, those on maternity leave and those returning to work.

The majority of employers involved in the research said they supported women throughout pregnancy, maternity leave and on returning to work. The report found that 84% of employers think that supporting pregnant workers and those on maternity leave is in the interests of their organisation, not just in the interests of the women involved. Those organisations said that being supportive leads to increased staff retention.

Eight out of ten employers agreed that pregnant women and those returning from maternity leave are just as committed to their work as their colleagues.

Two-thirds of organisations say that the workplace costs incurred by managing pregnancy and maternity leave are manageable.

Most women (66%) reported positive experiences during pregnancy and maternity leave, saying their employer willingly supported them throughout the whole process. Four in five said their needs when pregnant were supported willingly and three in four returning to work said their needs as new mothers were supported willingly.

However, one in three said they felt unsupported by their employer at some point during pregnancy or when returning to work. Of those, 9% said they returned to work and were treated worse by their employer than they had been before their pregnancy. One in 12 (8%) said they felt their line manager had less respect for them or that their employer did not want them to take maternity leave.

More than one in 20 (7%) said they were put under pressure to hand in their notice. Younger mothers – those under 25 years old – reported higher levels of discrimination, with around 6% being dismissed, compared to 1% across all age groups.

Mothers working flexible working patterns also reported problems, such as having fewer opportunities at work and feeling that their opinion was less valued than those of others.

Many mothers (38%) reported wanting to have some form of flexible working pattern in place, but had not requested it because they thought it would have negative consequences for them.

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