“I’d have given you the post, but you’re pregnant”
Pregnancy should be a magical, special time. Magical, that is, unless you’re one of the unlucky 2 per cent of women who develop hyperemesis gravidarum, an extreme form of all-day sickness and nausea in pregnancy.
Sickness aside, the months of growing a baby inside you and the time after enjoying your little one should be special and memorable. And thanks to our forward-thinking UK employment laws, pregnant women and new mothers should be supported financially and emotionally.
But as a recent study by OnePoll shows, this just isn’t the case. 1 in 7 women in the UK are made redundant or demoted after returning from maternity leave.
I know of at least four women this has happened to: one woman was forced to hand in her notice barely a week after returning from maternity leave after her boss made her life unbearable at work.
Another woman missed out on an opportunity for promotion during her pregnancy to someone much less experienced and was told brazenly by her line manager, “I’d have given you the post, but you’re pregnant”.
The recent study has caused shock and anger among many, but for others who have already experienced discrimination in the workplace, the findings are just not surprising. Many of us probably know of at least one woman who was made redundant following maternity leave or who was discriminated against at some point during their pregnancy.
There are meant to be laws in place to protect us, but are they working? These latest findings strongly suggest not.
Just as the 2010 Equality Act (previously the Disability Discrimination Act) – intended to protect disabled people from discrimination in workplace – is failing to work, so too are maternity laws.
Discrimination happens, often in such an under hand way that can’t be proved in a tribunal.
Having experienced disability discrimination in the workplace myself with several different organisations, I’m well aware how easy it is for those deemed ‘vulnerable’ to be targeted. And in more cases than not, the employer gets away with it, time and time again.
When is this going to change? For women to be given equal rights in the workplace, there needs to be a huge sea change of attitudes and better protection for employees.
Actually, some companies do get it right. Informa, global publisher, conference organiser and performance improvement specialists, are renowned internally for their forward-thinking, healthy attitude towards staff.
The company has always had a high ratio of women of child-bearing age, but instead of panicking at the skills gap that was likely to occur as more women left to have their babies, Informa initiated their highly successful flexi-working scheme.
Under the scheme, every employee, male or female, is entitled to request flexi-working arrangements which best suits their and their family’s needs.
Employees work closely with their line managers to work out a suitable timetable that benefits both the employees’ needs and that of the business. It might be working a three day week, a slightly earlier or later start time or a working from home arrangement on certain days.
Since the scheme was initiated last year, job satisfaction has continued to increase, women who ordinarily would have left their roles after maternity leave are returning and the business has retained its key talent. A win-win situation all round.
If the majority of UK businesses were brave enough to operate in this way, studies like the one last week would surely be very different.