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New EHRC report suggests we are still in the 'dark ages'

Emma Satyamurti and Sonya Cassell discuss the new report from the EHRC on attitudes to new mothers and pregnant women

pregnant woman at desk
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Emma is a partner in the employment and discrimination team at Leigh Day, Sonya also works in the team supporting associate Nigel Mackay.
Statistics just out from the Equality and Human Rights Commission about employers’ attitudes to recruiting pregnant women and new mothers, are eye-catching for all the wrong reasons. The statistics come from a survey conducted on behalf of the Commission looking at managers’ views in relation to pregnancy and maternity based discrimination. In overview, the findings reveal a widespread view that pregnant women and women with young children are a burden on business. 

Just a few ‘high’-lights:
  • nearly 60% of employers felt women should be required to disclose whether they are pregnant during recruitment;
  • 46% felt it was acceptable to ask female job applicants if they have young children;
  • 44% thought that a woman should work for at least a year before having children;
It was to protect women from exactly these kinds of beliefs – based on the view that the perpetuation of the human race is a female -only enterprise – that pregnancy and maternity discrimination legislation was introduced. It is really disappointing to see yet more evidence that employers’ hearts and minds still lag so far behind their legal obligations.
Sonya Cassell offers a personal perspective

In society, I believe that there are still strong signs of “dark ages” over the expectations on women – in terms of getting married and having children. People feel it is acceptable to continually question people’s lifestyle choices if they do not follow this prescribed route.  After you meet someone, the flurry of questions begin which are: when are you getting married and then once you are married – it is when are you going to have children.  It can be a difficult topic for women when they are continually pressed on these points.

Therefore, it makes very sad reading that the new statistics from the Equality and Human Rights Commission reveal that employers are in the “dark ages” over recruitment of pregnant women and new mothers.

I think once you make the decision to become a parent and get pregnant, it can be stressful and worrying as well as a very private/personal time, as you do not tend to tell employers until you are at least 12 weeks pregnant (after your first scan). You worry that telling your employer that you are pregnant may be the start of the possible change in your employer’s views of you – needing time off work for ante-natal appointments, as well as potentially having time off sick due to pregnancy related illness.  Whilst it is important to consider the employer and their business needs, there should be a real balance of respect for the employer/employee.  Therefore, the suggestion that employers should be allowed to ask at interview stage if a prospective employee is pregnant or when she may become pregnant, is a further sign of a dark ages mentality……
Whilst on my maternity leave, I had met many women who were being treated badly as they either lost their job as the employer was simply unwilling to consider any flexible working requests, or just made the woman redundant.  It can be quite upsetting at a time which should be enjoyable and memorable as you can feel quite isolated during maternity leave as you are away from work and may not have much contact with your employer, and then if for whatever reason they decide that they do not wish you to return to work, it can significantly impact on your confidence and potential ability to find work. 

At Leigh Day in our Employment Department there is a real culture of flexible working for all, regardless of whether or not you have children – which I believe is to create a positive working environment.  This should be the focus to save any comments or bad attitudes from members of staff.

When I returned to work after maternity leave, my confidence was at an all-time low, and whilst my employer Leigh Day were very supportive in terms of my return to work, when you have had a year out of the workplace it can be difficult.  It is therefore imperative to support returning employees, and also ensure that they have access to career progression.  There can be conflicting obligations on a parent – when the child is ill, or the guilty feeling you have when returning to work when you feel you should be at home looking after your child.  However, again there should be a real balance of respect for the employer/employee which can allow and support any return to work and any possible career progression. 

Whilst it can be very hard being a parent at times, one thing which should be obvious to all employers  is the importance of supporting their pregnant employees and working parents, and no longer working or living in the dark ages.

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