I don’t know if it is the time of year, or whether, as the commentators seem to be suggesting, discrimination towards women has increased in recent times, but on Friday I read an article quoting research from a well known and reputable insurance company suggesting that 14% of small businesses won’t employ women as they are “frightened” of discrimination claims, and today the Equality and Human Rights Commission has published research around pregnancy and maternity that makes stark reading.
Today’s research from the EHRC quotes the following in its press release:
“British employers are ‘living in the dark ages’ and have worrying attitudes towards unlawful behaviour when it comes to recruiting women, new statistics from the Equality and Human Rights Commission reveal.
Showing that many businesses’ attitudes are decades behind the law, the survey of 1,106 senior decision makers in business found around a third (36%) of private sector employers agree that it is reasonable to ask women about their plans to have children in the future during recruitment.
The new statistics also reveal six in 10 employers (59%) agree that a woman should have to disclose whether she is pregnant during the recruitment process, and almost half (46%) of employers agree it is reasonable to ask women if they have young children during the recruitment process.
Conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Commission, the survey was commissioned to understand managers’ attitudes around pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
Looking beyond antiquated recruitment beliefs, the survey also found that, when it comes to maternity discrimination in the workplace, 44% of employers agree that women should work for an organisation for at least a year before deciding to have children.
What’s more, the same number agrees that women, who have had more than one pregnancy while in the same job, can be a ‘burden’ to their team.
In fact, 40% of employers claim to have seen at least one pregnant woman in their workplace ‘take advantage’ of their pregnancy, whilst around a third believe that women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are ‘generally less interested in career progression’ when compared to other employees in their company.
Financially, four in 10 (41%) employers agreed that pregnancy in the workplace puts ‘an unnecessary cost burden’ on the workplace.”
The EHRC has released the statistics in order to promote its “Working Forward” initiative. This initiative is intended to help employers to make workplaces a better place for parents of young children and pregnant employees. Over 40 years after the initial sex discrimination legislation came in, we are still having conversations about the value of women in the workplace when they might wish to have children.
When the average number of children per family in the UK sits at 1.79 (2011 UK Census), that suggests that in the majority of cases a woman will take up to 2 maternity leave periods off in a career that with current retirement expectations may last up to 50 or more years.
I could quote all the legislative reasons why we cannot and should not discriminate, but I’m far more interested in sociological change than the impact of the Equality Act 2010 (both gender and maternity are protected characteristics in case you are one of the employers that has missed that...).
I feel personally very fortunate that I have not suffered discrimination at work due to being a woman or when I was pregnant. I did see some interesting behaviour from my university when I became pregnant in my second year. That was a quarter of a century ago. Have we really not moved forward?
What I am really interested in are the great stories about how workplaces have embraced flexibility and agility and can respect difference and recognise the enhanced creativity of a diverse workforce. There are plenty out there. They include Apple, Accenture, Deloitte, General Electric and more (Forbes 2016). Research demonstrates that a working mother with a positive employer has a positive impact upon the family, and in turn our future workforce (South Bank University 2003). We have so many skill shortages in the UK, can we afford to side line a whole sector of the workforce because they may have (on average) up to two years off?
I encourage you not only to read the report from the EHRC, but to also look at the good news stories about good employers who can see the advantages to embracing the whole workforce, whatever their personal circumstances. It’s not just about the law, it’s about good work and good workplaces.