Pregnant women face discrimination in the workplace

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Around 54,000 new mothers may be forced out of their jobs each year, new research suggests.

A survey of 3,200 women, by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, found that 11 percent of the women interviewed had been dismissed, made compulsorily redundant, or left their jobs as a result of being treated poorly.

If these results were replicated across the whole population of the UK, this would mean as many as 54,000 women are losing their jobs.

Carried out in partnership with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, the research found around one in five new mothers experienced harassment or negative comments from colleagues, employers or managers when pregnant or returning to work following maternity leave.

Employers, across a range of industries, reported they are firm supporters of female staff during and after their pregnancies and find it easy to comply with the law. The majority of employers (84%) believe that supporting pregnant workers and those on maternity leave is in the organisation’s best interest, and eight in ten employers agree that pregnant women and those returning from maternity leave are just as committed to their work as their colleagues.

Two-thirds of employers don’t believe pregnancy puts an unreasonable cost burden on the workplace and two thirds of mothers (66%) felt their employer supported them willingly during pregnancy and when they returned to work.

However the research suggests that for some women, pregnancy and maternity are not a positive experience. 10 percent of women revealed they were discouraged by their employer to attend antenatal appointments and 9 percent said they were treated worse by an employer on their return to work than before pregnancy.

Seven percent said they were under pressure to hand in their notice, and when given the opportunity to work flexibly, around half reported negative consequences as a result.

Caroline Waters, Deputy Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“This research reveals the worrying levels of discrimination and disadvantage at work that women still face today. Not only is discrimination unlawful, but it is also bad for business.

“That’s why today we’re launching a major initiative to bring this issue into the public eye, improve awareness of the law and work with business and other groups to find workable solutions.”

Dianah Worman, diversity adviser for the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, says:

“The findings of this important research show how employers are losing female talent by default. It’s a wake-up call about checking against weak employment practices that cause such negative experiences for mums who want to work.

“It’s time for employers to do some housekeeping in their organisations to make sure hidden problems and difficulties are surfaced and dealt with quickly to ensure they have both diverse and inclusive working environments.”

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