A survey of 1,106 senior decision makers in business revealed six in 10 employers (59%) agree that a woman should have to disclose whether she is pregnant during the recruitment process, and almost half (46%) agree it is reasonable to ask women if they have children during this process.
Around a third (36%) of private sector employers agree that it is reasonable to ask women about their plans to have children in the future during recruitment.
“It is a depressing reality that, when it comes the rights of pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace, we are still living in the dark ages,” said Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the EHRC. “It’s clear that many employers need more support to better understand the basics of discrimination law and the rights of pregnant women and new mothers.”
Sarah, a mum-of-two who was made redundant during maternity leave for her first child, said: “It’s sad to think that things like this are still happening. I feel angry all the time that you can be a mother with young children and unless you’re in a job that protects you, your whole world can come tumbling down - out of your control. It is essential for employers to be honest and ensure there is good communication between them and those on maternity leave so that pregnant women and new mothers are given the support they deserve.”
Conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the survey was commissioned to understand managers’ attitudes around pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
The survey found that 44% of employers agree that women should work for an organisation for at least a year before deciding to have children. And the same number agree that women who have had more than one pregnancy while in the same job, can be a “burden” to their team.
In fact, 40% of employers claim to have seen at least one pregnant woman in their workplace “take advantage” of their pregnancy, whilst around a third believe that women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are “generally less interested in career progression” when compared to other employees in their company.
In response to the figures, the EHRC is now calling on employers to eliminate pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace for good. They believe this can be achieved by joining the Working Forward initiative, a campaign to improve business practices and make businesses the best they can be for pregnant women and new parents.
The poll also highlighted that currently employers are struggling to provide pregnant women and new mothers with the support they need. Half (51%) of employers agree that there is sometimes resentment amongst employees towards women who are pregnant or on maternity leave. Around a third (36%) of employers disagree that it is easy to protect expectant or new mothers from discrimination in the workplace.
Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, said: “Discrimination not only disadvantages individuals, but also means that employers themselves are missing out on attracting and retaining female talent. Much more needs to be done to help organisations improve their people management practices, particularly smaller firms, given the most negative attitudes to pregnancy and maternity in the survey are among those with 250 or fewer employees. Investment in manager capability is essential to challenge unlawful, short-sighted and unethical practice.”
As well as urging employers to sign up to Working Forward, the EHRC is asking the public to share their pregnancy and maternity-related experiences with the hashtag #maternitywrongs.
Have you experienced pregnancy or maternity-related discrimination at work? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and share your experiences.