The Equality and Human rights commission have published some new research today which is unlikely to shock any working mums.
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. 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.
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 agree 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.
What this research demonstrates is our inability to shift lazy gender stereotypes. The idea that pregnant women and new mums are lazy and a liability is absurd. Women are very capable of using their brain and their uterus simultaneously. It is not mothers who are at fault, it is biased, sexist employers who communicate badly, are fearful of change and can’t be bothered to adapt their practices so that they work for mothers. The discrimination which occurs at the recruitment stage is rarely discussed because it is almost impossible to prove and often women are facing discrimination without even realising it.
At Pregnant Then Screwed we document stories of pregnancy and maternity discrimination. In response to this research we asked our community if they had ever knowingly encountered discrimination in the recruitment process. The stories came quick and fast:
‘I was told that they ‘don’t want to have someone that leaves the office at 6pm because of some nursery run, we need someone committed to the job.’
‘A female and mother owner of a small business told me during an interview that she really liked me but I had one child already and soon I would want another so they had to be careful how much they invested in me’
‘A friend of mine recently received an email by accident about her interview process which stated: ‘’don’t offer her more than £xxx, she’s a mum, she needs the job, she won’t ask for more.
‘I was grilled by the CEO about how I would manage a senior role with kids and a husband to take care of.’
Dismissing women of childbearing age and women with young children as preoccupied and a burden to business means they are missing out on a large pool of talent. There are almost 5 million working mothers and countless more who want to work but are unable to due to discrimination or childcare costs. These biases towards women at this stage of their life means that employers are not recruiting the best person for the job and that will inevitably have a negative impact on their businesses performance.
If employers took the time to look at practices in other countries, such as Sweden, where far fewer mothers encounter discrimination and lazy stereotyping, they might also note that Sweden has more women in work than we do in the UK and none of this has had a negative impact on their economy. To the contrary, the Swedish believe their gender equality policies have helped their country become one of the most competitive economies in the world.
If employers don’t look after women when they become mothers, then women will never reach the higher positions within their organisation. Mckinsey finds that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. A government commissioned report showed that companies with more women on their board ‘s outperform their rivals with a 42% higher return in sales, 66% higher return in invested capital and 53% higher return in equity and research by Ernst and Young showed that increasing the number of women in top spots from zero to 30% is associated with a 15% jump in profits.
I don’t think it is too much to assume that the employers who perceived pregnancy as a burden belong to companies with fewer women in leadership positions. If you want higher profits, then stop kicking women out of their job for daring to procreate, stop rejecting women at the interview stage because they are of childbearing age, and start addressing your own bias.