Employer attitudes to discrimination against pregnant women and women with young children during the recruitment process: survey results

Employer attitudes towards maternity are deeply concerning for all women. A survey of more than 400 Mumsnet users involved in recruitment provides sobering confirmation of 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 - carried out to mark Mumsnet's event on women and employment, Workfest - revealed that 72% of employers and recruiters agree that the industry in general discriminate against pregnant women, with four in 10 claiming that dealing with pregnancy and maternity leave is 'a nightmare'.

See the full survey results below

Have you ever interviewed an applicant for a role who you've known to be pregnant before or at interview stage?

Answer options Response percent
Yes 17%
No 75%
Don't know 8%

Have you ever offered a job to a woman you knew was pregnant?

Answer options Response percent
No 75%
Don't know 4%

Have you ever offered a job to an applicant and then subsequently found out they were pregnant when they applied?

Answer options Response percent
Yes 26%
No 73%
Don't know 1%

The Equality Act 2010 states that employers must not refuse to employ women purely because they are pregnant or on maternity leave when they apply for a job, or because they have (or have had) an illness related to their pregnancy. Applicants do not have to disclose that they are pregnant, and if the job is offered to them it cannot be withdrawn purely because of the pregnancy. Employers are also not allowed to ask about sexuality, plans for future children, or arrangements for childcare. Thinking about equalities legislation regarding candidates' pregnancy, maternity and childcare status, and its implications for recruitment, which of the following statements comes closest to your view?"
Answer options Response percent
It's very positive and necessary, and good for business overall 47%
On the whole I think it's a positive thing, although with some downsides 28%
It's a bit annoying and restrictive, but doesn't have a big impact 11%
It restricts employers' room for manoeuvre, which is detrimental for business 8%
Other 5%
Don't know (skipped) 1%

When it comes to your current business or organisation, for each of the following, please tell us whether these things cause recruitment problems or problems when dealing with new hires:

Causes huge problems Causes noticable problems Doesn't cause significant problems
Doesn't cause problems at all Don't know
Lack of suitable applicants due to specialised requirements of the work 21% 36% 27% 14% 1%
Fierce competition for suitable applicants from competitors or other businesses
12% 27% 37% 23% 2%
Salary expectations that are too high
9% 29% 38% 23% 1%
Applicants being unwilling to work the necessary specified employment hours/shift patterns 11% 30% 31% 27% 1%
Poor basic skills (literacy and numeracy) 16% 27% 29% 27% 1%
Poor people skills/soft skills 18% 34% 30% 17% 1%
Lack of commitment/willingness to go the extra mile
12% 36% 33% 16% 2%
Lack of maturity/level-headedness 14% 36% 33% 17% 1%
Unfamiliarity with the sector or nature of the business 9% 28% 39% 22% 2%
Dealing with employees' pregnancies
2% 15% 43% 38% 2%
Absence or other inconvenience caused by employees' caring responsibilities for children
5% 18% 52% 24% 1%
Lack of enthusiasm/get-up-and-go among applicants and new recruits
13% 35% 28% 21% 2%

Lord Sugar once famously claimed that laws banning bosses from asking women about children and childcare plans during job interviews are counterproductive, and that women should be 'forthcoming'. Which of the following comes closest to your views about this?

Answer options Response percent
No, the law is there for a good reason and nobody should feel they have to discuss these things during a recruitment process 69%
I do not think the law should be changed, but I think women should be forthcoming with this information of their own accord 25%
The law should be changed so that employers can ask about pregnancy, children and childcare plans at interview stage
Don't know

In your current or any previous jobs, have you ever heard someone responsible for recruitment expressing any of the following views? Please tick all that apply

Answer options Response percent
That they would never hire a woman of child-bearing age 28%
That given the choice between an equally capable male candidate, they'd always choose the male
That employing women is an extra hassle
Net: At least one of these views 51%
No, I’ve never heard those views 49%
Don't know 1%

In recruitment processes that you've observed or participated in, have you ever....

Answer Options
Don't know
seen outright discrimination against women who are pregnant, on maternity leave, or have dependent children? 20% 77% 3%
suspected discrimination against women who are pregnant, on maternity leave, or have dependent children? 42% 56% 2%

In your opinion, do employers and recruiters in general discriminate against pregnant women, women of childbearing age, or women with dependent children when recruiting?

Answer options Lots of discrimination Some discrimination Barely any discrimination
No discrimination at all
Don't know
Pregnant women 20% 52%
Women on maternity leave
13% 54%
All women of childbearing age 4%

To what extent do you agree with the following statements

Answer options Net: Agree Net: Disagree Strongly agree Tend to agree Tend to disagree Strongly disagree Don't know/skipped
Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are more likely to discriminate against pregnant women than larger businesses
70% 19% 15% 55% 16% 3% 11%
Female employers are just as likely to discriminate against pregnant women as male employers
81% 13% 24% 57% 11% 2% 6%
Businesses without an HR department are more likely to discriminate against pregnant women than those who have one
68% 21% 22% 47% 19% 2% 10%
Dealing with pregnancy and maternity leave is a nightmare for employers
41% 54% 10% 31% 42% 12% 5%
UK equality law has been effective at eradicating discrimination against pregnant women
36% 56% 2% 34% 37% 19% 7%
There's a culture of discrimination against pregnant women in work
46% 46% 8% 38% 36% 10% 8%

Employer survey of 414 Mumsnet users who employ staff directly, or who participate directly in recruitment processes at their organisation (drafting job ads; shortlisting and interviewing candidates; and contributing to final decisions about job offers).  Survey ran 21 March - 2 May 2016.  The data has not been weighted.

Last chance to join us at Workfest on 14 May 2016 at Euston Square. Book your tickets here!

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Last updated: about 4 years ago