KiranMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 13-May-16 10:15:17

Guest post: Workplace maternity discrimination - "we have to bring about change"

MPs are calling for urgent action on a rise in workplace discrimination against expectant and new mothers - while a Mumsnet survey reveals the reluctance of employers to recruit women of childbearing age. Olivia Knight says attitudes must change

Olivia Knight

Founder of group gift platform, Patchwork

Posted on: Fri 13-May-16 10:15:17


Lead photo

"The only interest a business should have in a woman's pregnancy plans is how best to support her when she announces the fact."

The UK has seen a "shocking rise" in workplace discrimination against mothers and pregnant women over the last decade, according to a new report published by the women and equalities select committee.

MPs are now demanding urgent government action and better job protection, so pregnant women can only be made redundant in certain circumstances.

The committee chair, Maria Miller, said the report had found that each year 54,000 expectant and new mothers had no choice but to leave their work because of concerns about the safety of their child or pregnancy discrimination

Earlier this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission report into pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work was backed up by a Mumsnet survey. It revealed just how far some employers will go to ensure that they don't fulfil their responsibilities towards pregnant women and mothers - up to and including being reluctant to recruit any woman of childbearing age.

The survey, released just before Mumsnet's annual event on women and employment, Workfest, is a sobering read. It shows that more than a quarter (27%) of employers and recruiters have heard someone responsible for recruitment saying that they would always choose a male candidate over a female candidate if they were equally capable. The survey also revelaed that a third (31%) of employers and recruiters have heard someone responsible for recruitment expressing the view that employing women is an extra hassle. Six out of ten (64%) women workers have felt that revealing information about their personal circumstances (pregnancy, existing children, childcare and caring responsibilities) would make it less likely that they'd be offered a job.

Given that women's fertile years span more than half our working lives, surely those of us that run businesses should assume the chance of pregnancy during a woman's career, rather than using the possibility as a criteria to filter out potential candidates during a job interview.

As a woman of childbearing age, who has two children and has had to work while raising them, I believe the only interest a business should have in a woman’s pregnancy plans is how best to support her when she announces the fact.

And I say that as an employer too.

Four amazing people help me run my tech start-up, Patchwork, and three of them are women between the ages of 24-40. I hired these women because they were the best candidates for the job. I based my decision on their skills and experience, their principles and personalities, their understanding and appreciation of my business and their determination and commitment to help us grow.

When I interviewed the three women (and one man) who now work with me, I asked about their career ambitions. I didn't ask whether they were in a relationship, had children or whether they were able and/or interested in planning a family at any point.

As it turns out two of us at Patchwork are parents. My children are at school now so most days I work in the studio from 9-3. But I still work from home quite a bit, as does Kim who has a two-year-old son, and Jay who has to look after his goats.

My thoughts on women, wombs and the workplace are perhaps influenced by my personal experience as a woman and an employer. But also by the fact that I'm a human being who knows a bit about our reproductive system and how the whole birth, life and death thing works at a basic social and economic level.

The thing is, women do not choose to become pregnant. People (men and women) choose to raise families. And most of us do, thank goodness, or our society would cease to function. But this is a really important distinction.

Working women have to take 'time off' because of the biological fact they carry, deliver and (in most cases) feed their babies. But maternity is not a holiday. It's crucial time that working women require to collectively raise the next generation – upon whom we all depend.

Given that women's fertile years span more than half our working lives, surely those of us that run businesses should assume the chance of pregnancy during a woman's career, rather than using the possibility as a criteria to filter out potential candidates during a job interview.

If the cost of hiring women of childbearing age is too great a risk for small British businesses then we do have a problem. But the solution is not an employer endorsed witch-hunt that forces women to confess their fertility. It's better legislation and funding to make it easier and more affordable for small businesses to support working parents to raise their children.

Patchwork is a small company. I have to look my employees in the eye each day and so my conscience is guided by our closeness. But as we grow we are going to need to formalise how we 'do the right thing' by our employees. And I think Mumsnet's user-generated guide will certainly be our start point.

I hope that other employers do the same. The Mumsnet survey and the Equality and Human Rights Commission report have shown this week that employer attitudes towards maternity are deeply concerning for all women - we have to bring about change.

By Olivia Knight

Twitter: @patchworkit

Oly5 Sat 14-May-16 17:54:25

Wonderfully said. As a working mother of two who enjoys her job and is fairly good at it, I'm lucky that I have an employer

Oly5 Sat 14-May-16 17:59:42

Who does not see the mere fact I am female as a disadvantage, and I've been fairly supported through two mat leaves.
But many other women are not so lucky.
So many things are stacked against women who either need to work for financial reasons or who want to work for career or personal reasons.
We fear for our jobs on mat leave, are forced to survive on fairly inadequate levels of maternity pay and then have the whole world of childcare stacked against us because it is a) extremely expensive and b) not always geared up properly once our children start school. School holidays are a whole other headache.
Until these things change, eimen will continue to be forced into extremely difficult decisions about how they work and who they work for, and the economy will continue to suffer the loss of many highly skilled women.
It's time for a revolution in thinking so the fact that our mere biology us no longer held against us on such a grand scale.

Usernamesarehard Sat 14-May-16 20:05:44

I've been unable to return to work after mat leave, I was unfairly dismissed and they're now advertising for my job. I can't believe it's 2016 sometimes. I'm taking legal action, but the stress of it is taking its toll on my (already wobbly) mental health.

AyeAmarok Sat 14-May-16 20:13:00

Awful, User. Please stick at it if you can, they just can't be allowed to get away with that.

Usernamesarehard Sun 15-May-16 17:30:48

Thanks aye I determined not to let them get away with it.

Usernamesarehard Sun 15-May-16 17:30:57

I'm *


AmyC86 Wed 31-Aug-16 10:00:57

This happened to my mother in 1997 after she had my DSIS. Left to have the baby, whilst she was on maternity my DNAN sadly passed away. Forward 6-7 months when my mum was due to return to work & her job didn't exsist anymore. (She was offered a lower paid job at part time, but simply couldn't accept it due to the lower paid wage). This job was a local petrol station which was privately owned.

A friend of mine went off to have her son in 2000. She worked for a large retail department store. Following her maternity leave she was told on her return that there had been a restructuring and her job didn't exist anymore.

Another friend in 2003 had her daughter, she worked for a privately owned company. Again, she was made redundant on her return after maternity leave, but had been strung along for weeks/months before being told that there wouldn't be any work for her.

mamarach26 Wed 31-Aug-16 19:09:21

My employer was brilliant, I found out I was pregnant the day I got the job. I wrote them a email explaining I would understand if they didn't want to employ me, as it's a really physical job. They said it was no problem, I would be put on light duties! My boss did not mind at all, another employee however called me useless as I "couldn't do anything because she is pregnant!

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