The research conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission demonstrates the terrifying scale of pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The statistics are shocking but not entirely surprising. Pregnant Then Screwed has long been aware of how common maternity related discrimination and harassment is through the stories shared on our site. However, the burden of certain legislation and cultural, professional and emotional pressures on women mean mothers are often effectively silenced.
What is particularly troubling is how few women feel empowered to challenge employers and colleagues even when the law is on our side. We need to generate a cultural and social shift as well as reforming legislation. Tackling the root causes of discrimination will take serious commitment from the Government, from employers and from campaign groups like Pregnant Then Screwed. But let’s make no bones about it, unless we do something to improve this situation then the problem will continue to fester, crushing women’s confidence and stagnating our ability to be both caregiver and bread-winner. That’s bad for society, the economy and the working world as a whole.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission highlight various reasons why many women are suffering in silence. One of the key reasons is a lack of good quality, free advice. In response to this we launched a free advice service earlier this month, we hope that access to this will give women the confidence to address discriminatory behaviour. The service is intended to help women determine whether their employer or contractor has broken the law and advise them on what can be done about discrimination. The hotline, (manned 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday) and an out-of-hours email service will be staffed by legal experts who have been vetted by Pregnant Then Screwed.
We welcome the recommendations made to the Government. Since our inception we have campaigned for an extension to the time limit for taking a case to Tribunal, so we are particularly pleased to see this being highlighted. In addition to the recommendations proposed by the EHRC we would also like to see legislation encourage an equal share of the parenting responsibilities. Pregnant Then Screwed is campaigning for 3 months paternity leave paid at 90% of the father’s salary, to be taken once the mother returns to work. We are also keen to see laws implemented that support flexible working and we would like clearer legislation for those who are self employed or are on temporary contracts.
The report itself still has some gaps including the reasons why companies and the Government should address this issue. Other statistics highlight that if we made men and women’s productivity and employment equal, that could be worth £600 billion to the economy.
The report alludes to the discrimination that occurs towards women simply because they are of childbearing age but it is impossible to know how many women have been affected by this.
Women are being pushed out of the workplace because of pregnancy, maternity and sometimes simply because they have a uterus. If we want equality and if we want to increase productivity then this type of discrimination needs to be addressed. How do we make families work? How do we make our economy stronger? How do we become more efficient? How do we have employees with higher morale and fewer sick days? By looking after pregnant women and those returning from maternity leave, decreasing discrimination, implementing flexible working legislation and creating laws that encourage shared parenting.
With such a systemic challenge we cannot expect overnight change, but if the Government take this report seriously and start to put into motion some of the changes recommended by the EHRC and other campaign groups, then there is hope that in the future fewer mothers will have to endure this kind of treatment. This is a human rights issue and a major challenge for UK productivity.