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The Truth About Being Pregnant at Work

I found some employers acting like sexist dinosaurs, while other companies are much more enlightened when it comes to pregnancy in the workplace. I've changed the names of some of the women who spilled the beans to protect them from identification.

A report by the Equality & Human Rights Commission has found that 11% of new mothers interviewed reported having been dismissed, made redundant, or treated so poorly that they had to leave their jobs.

In addition, one in five new mothers experienced harassment or negative comments from their colleagues, employer or manager when pregnant or returning from maternity leave.

Could pregnancy really come at such a high price in this day and age?

Obviously I lack the scope, reach and resources of the EHRC, but I decided to do a little qualitative research of my own, to see if there was any anecdotal evidence among Lifestyle Maven readers and within my network, to back up these shocking findings.

I found some employers acting like sexist dinosaurs, while other companies are much more enlightened when it comes to pregnancy in the workplace.

I've changed the names of some of the women who spilled the beans to protect them from identification.

This is Sarah's story: "I had been with my company, a management consultancy, for six years when I announced I was pregnant with my first child. I told my manager very early, at around eight weeks because I just couldn't bear the subterfuge and having to lie at networking events and dinners where I was uncharacteristically refusing to drink.

"At first everyone seemed really happy for me and nothing much changed. A couple of months later, I was called into a meeting to be told that I would no longer be on the same training and development plan as my peers, who had been on a parallel career track with me since we joined the company, as I was 'effectively leaving the business and going on a sabbatical.'

"I was too gobsmacked to respond. I was being blatantly and overtly passed over for promotion. I know I could have taken them to a tribunal, but I wanted to have a job to come back to, so I didn't cause a fuss, went on maternity leave and came back to work four days a week. I didn't ever feel the same way about that manager again - who incidentally was a woman."

Jane worked in a similar profession. She was told that she wouldn't be able to start any new projects after she announced her pregnancy at three months. "Typically a project was anything from three weeks to three months, so there was plenty of time for me to get involved in the time I had left. It's not like I was a labourer or being exposed to harmful chemicals - I worked in an office! I think they were afraid I'd go into labour in the client's boardroom."

Emma said: "My boss claimed to be delighted when I told her my news. They started making allowances for me to work from home one day a week and come in a bit later in the morning to avoid the rush hour. But she did say a few things that really jarred with me and uncovered how she really felt about the situation. She told me not to talk about these 'perks' as she called them, as it might encourage some of my colleagues to get pregnant (seriously!); and she also said that when I return to work I shouldn't go on about my kids all the time, because - and I quote 'nobody cares about your children when you're at work'. I must say that wasn't my experience at all, mainly because my colleagues were also my friends - of course they cared!"

This was Joanna's experience: "When I told my manager that I was pregnant he just groaned, put his head in his hands and said 'I can't believe you've done this, this is such bad timing.' After that I felt like I was put into a different category at work, seen as someone who had replaced ambition with motherhood. I put pressure on myself to work harder than usual as I felt like I was under the spotlight."

However, for all the bad examples of everyday sexism, ignorance about employment law and general rude behaviour, there are also the positive stories.

Rachel works for a law firm where shared parental leave has been positively embraced. She has many examples of couples sharing responsibility for looking after their baby during the first year and of employees returning to work feeling positive and being productive. "They made loads of allowances for me when I was pregnant so I could work from home or take part in meetings by Skype. There was never any doubt I'd return to work and be able to continue on the same career trajectory as before" she said.

Karen who works at Click Consult said: "When I told the HR team and my line manager that I was pregnant they were very supportive. I suffered from terrible morning sickness but they set things up so I could work from home. Our seating plan changed while I was absent, but when I returned everything had been set up for me already - even my photos and my favourite mug were just where I wanted them. I think everyone's excited there's going to be another company baby!"

I asked my little survey group what was the best thing about being pregnant at work. If you'd like to see the responses and leave a comment with your experience of working through pregnancy, please check out the full blog post by clicking on this link.