Pregnant Then Screwed has been documenting the experiences of women enduring pregnancy and maternity discrimination for over a year now, receiving over 500 stories. The stories are written by women of all ages, all professions at all levels and at different stages in the discrimination process. When read together you can see how women are affected by pregnancy and maternity discrimination not just at the point the discrimination takes place, but the repercussions are felt for a life-time. This can be seen very clearly when we receive stories from young mothers. Pregnancy for young mothers can have a devastating affect on their chances of a successful career.
Research shows young mothers are significantly more likely to experience pregnancy and maternity discrimination, with six times as many under 25 year olds than average reporting being dismissed from their jobs after they tell their employer they are pregnant, and twice as many mothers under 25 (15%) reporting feeling under pressure to hand their notice in on becoming pregnant.
Young mothers are much more likely to be at the beginning of their career and having a child can put the brakes on any chance of progression.
Reprobate Mum, a writer and contributor to Pregnant Then Screwed had her first child at 25. She told us about some of the hardships she has encountered trying to manage motherhood while developing her career:
''As the only mother in a young organisation, I found it hard to keep up with the company's "work hard, play hard" culture. Here, leaving on time was frowned upon. Not joining in with after work activities, often involving copious amounts of booze, saw me sidelined, with the company CEO asking me aggressively why I had left a summer sports day event early. The fact I showed up for work early, often having battled tantrums, a night waking and breakfast on the floor before a five-mile cycle to save on tube fares, was never taken into account. The fact, exhausted by midday, I sometimes took a proper lunch hour, was verbally criticised. A succession of inexperienced, largely male managers saw one renege on an agreed "working from home" day on a whim after a minor technical hitch. Another ensured my workload became repetitive and arduous following an altercation over a day off when my son broke his collar bone, despite working through it, head in my laptop while my six-year-old was grey and silent with pain. Sensing my growing anger and frustration, the company started to stage-manage my exit. Criticism was solicited from co-workers who had no idea about the daily challenges I faced. Thin allegations about my competency were brought and a disciplinary process began, as my mental health began to unravel to the extent I'd often be in tears at my desk.''
Young mums have to balance the high cost of child-care with low wages, their personal responsibilities as a mother with their employer's expectation that they can work long hours and network at evening social events. Many young mums might be doing unpaid work experience to develop their CV which means they won't qualify for statutory Maternity Pay.
''It's standard practice for employers in popular industries to exploit young people and call it work experience. Young women often suffer the brunt of this, as internships, of which I'd already done several in my early twenties, eat into their fertile years.
I've spent many a school holiday juggling often dubious childcare, sometimes paying to go to work for the duration of the holiday in order to keep my career going. The thing is, I can't put my kids' childhoods on hold while I build my career. But for a lot of it, I've felt unable to meet my employers expectations and also be a good mother.''
Improving attitudes towards pregnant women and mothers will require a cultural and societal shift. We need to start valuing care as much as we value professional achievements. Both are equally crucial to a well functioning society. Women are still the primary caregiver and it is heartbreaking and devastating to see that young mothers are victimised, exploited and often prevented from succeeding by our capitalist culture.
''Choice is often a spurious word levelled at mothers, particularly young mums. It's used as a weapon to blame women for the circumstances in which they find themselves having "taken the decision" to become pregnant. But it's telling that a disproportionate number of women who give birth before the age of 25 have disrupted upbringings themselves. My pregnancy, though unplanned, offered me a chance to have my own family, an anchor that was missing in my own sometimes turbulent childhood. I longed to give my son the stability I had lacked as a child. But an unforgiving workplace didn't always make this easy to achieve.''
Today the Equality and Human Rights Commission is launching #PowertotheBump, a digital campaign to help young expectant and new mothers know their rights at work and have the confidence to stand up for them.
If you feel you have experienced pregnancy or maternity discrimination and need advice please contact our free advice line on 0161 9305300 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org