Pregnancy and Maternity Leave Discrimination

In 2015 a report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission found that 54,000 women a year are forced out of their job because of discrimination over pregnancy.

The below list isn’t exhaustive but other shocking facts include the following:

  • One in five mothers experienced harassment and negative comment
  • 10% of mothers discouraged from taking time off for their antenatal care
  • Denial of a pay increase and refusal of promotion
  • Having to take lower paid work
  • Being excluded from training

Having experienced unfair treatment in the workplace myself (in five companies actually – yes I have counted!) this hit me right in the angry spot and I decided to do my own research.

I spoke to several mums and heard stories that reflect the findings from the Equality and Human Rights Commission report.  I discovered that there was an underlying feeling of neglect which led to deeper feelings of unworthiness.  This article contains stories of just a few of the women I spoke to.  Their experiences include negative treatment in the workplace from verbal harassment to denial of promotion opportunities and pay issues.  I have changed all the names.

Sally was headhunted – she was relieved to leave her old job as they just didn’t understand why things would need to change for her after she had her baby.  When she started her new job she was happy at first – her new bosses (a husband and wife team with two children) explained that they understood her needs and that she would be given flexibility. However, not long into her new job they realised what a great worker they had and the promise of flexibility soon vanished.

Sally felt hugely let down and in her own words “I was expecting solidarity from my female boss”.

She went on to say that she feels permanently exhausted.  “I feel like I’m a rubbish mum.  When I get home from work I don’t have the energy to spend quality time with my son.  I snap easily at him and then I feel awful about it.”

On top of all this, what happens if your child is unwell?  Of course, every child is ill at some point and arranging time off or childcare is a job in itself without having to deal with the extra burden of negative comments and attitudes from bosses and colleagues.

Sally’s son had glue ear and needed regular visits to the hospital.  Her husband’s employer doesn’t approve of him taking time out for his child’s hospital visits, and as Sally explains, “even if he were allowed to, he isn’t up to speed on the process.  I would have to chase it up anyway.”

Sally’s story shows that there is nothing straightforward about having a child and going back to work.  The knock on effect of something as common as glue ear can cause ripples that are far-reaching and take strategic planning to make it all work.

Tara worked in a predominantly male environment and was the first person in her team to take maternity leave. One of her colleagues who had previously been her boss, told the team that she was pregnant and that he wasn’t happy about it.

They then took bets on whether or not Tara would return from maternity leave and even replaced her just in case.

However, her replacement didn’t last long and left a week before she returned. Tara says “when I did return this particular chap who thought he was still the boss kept tabs on my hours so I would get in before him and leave after him so that he couldn’t do it anymore.

I also had issues with comments such as “you won’t know how to do that because you’re a woman.”

Anna had a fantastic career when she fell pregnant.  However, she suffered terrible sickness and so arranged to work from home taking mat leave at 7 months pregnant.

After the birth of her baby she had very little contact and no congratulations from her boss.  The plan was to return to work after six months, but after suffering nerve damage from emergency surgery she was left with fibromyalgia.

In the end, Anna took the full year and returned to work to find two colleagues with promotions without having been invited to any interviews herself.

No support was offered on her return even when she raised a grievance for feeling suffocated and unfairly treated by her boss and colleagues.

Anna ended up “leaving and throwing away the best-paid career I ever had”.

Kate works for a large financial company of 1500-2000 people.  She knew when she applied for the job that she wanted to have children at some point and this company’s maternity package looked good.

When the time came she took nine months maternity leave, but the reality of returning to work was hugely different from what she was expecting.

On her first day back her manager was off and she was left without any support or direction. Sorting out her new hours was a nightmare – what they offered didn’t work and would cost more in nursery fees.  It eventually got sorted but only with a lot of chasing from Kate.

She said that after having been off for nine months “I thought that management might come and ask me ‘how are you doing?’  But nothing.

The company has a ‘return to work’ procedure where employees who have been off sick are asked if there is anything they need.  I was expecting something similar to this when I returned but was disappointed when it didn’t happen.”

Kate told her manager that she felt neglected and she was told they would have a catch-up.  Unfortunately for Kate it didn’t happen and “it took me having a meltdown for him to notice.”

She says of her experience “it came as a complete surprise to be treated like that, I felt neglected and worthless”.

Many of the women I spoke to said that they would prefer to work for less money and have a job that is ‘less stressful’, however they can’t necessarily afford to do this.

These women describe feeling let down, disappointed, angry, worthless, neglected and more.  How have we got to 2019 and yet the attitudes of so many employers are so ignorant and dated?  It’s as though we’ve hardly moved on at all!

What I picked up from the women that I spoke to is that they are all strong, intelligent, smart, loyal and extremely capable, and in my opinion many companies would crumble were it not for them.  There is a culture of undermining and undervaluing strong, smart women in the workplace and I hope that this article brings some awareness to these depressing stories.

I wish each and every one of them every success for their and their family’s future.

PS You can also find me on Instagram