Three-quarters of pregnant women and new mothers experience discrimination at work, and one in nine leave their job as a result, government-commissioned research has found.
The research, undertaken on behalf of the Government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), found one in five mothers said they experienced harassment or negative comments in the workplace related to pregnancy or flexible working, and one in 10 said they were discouraged from attending antenatal appointments.
As many as 390,000 female workers a year have a “negative or possibly discriminatory” experience during pregnancy and maternity leave, or on their return.
Caroline Waters, deputy chair of the EHRC said: “We simply cannot ignore the true scale of the hidden discrimination that working mothers face. This is unacceptable in modern Britain, and urgent action is needed to ensure women are able to challenge discrimination and unfairness.
“This is why we are calling on the Government to look at the barriers working pregnant women and mothers face in accessing justice.”
“We want to make workplaces fairer for everyone and get rid of outdated practices like asking women during job interviews whether they intend to have children. For businesses to thrive, they need to harness the talents, skills and experience of all employees.”
The survey of more than 3,000 mothers and 3,000 employers suggested a number of reasons for the escalating problem, including employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200, fear of negative repercussions at work, lack of information about rights, and the stress of making a claim.
While most employers said it was in their interests to support women who are either pregnant or on maternity leave and that pregnant women and mothers were as committed as other employees, a significant minority expressed negative views. About a quarter felt pregnancy put an unreasonable cost burden on the workplace and a similar proportion suggested it was reasonable to ask women in job interviews whether they planned to have children.
Three-quarters of mothers questioned who were unsuccessful in job interviews felt the employer’s knowledge of their pregnancy had affected their chances.
Dianah Worman, diversity adviser at the CIPD, commented: “The findings of this rigorous research are shocking and should send alarm bells ringing across the business world. It shows many employers need to rethink how they recruit, retain and develop female talent.”
She added: “Lazy management which both overtly and covertly stops this from happening by imposing a baby penalty against pregnant women and those returning to work after they have had children is short-sighted and regressive.”