One in eight employers reluctant to hire women who might go on to have children, survey finds

Experts ‘disappointed’ in revealing figures and say HR ‘should be leading the way in tackling discrimination in the workplace'

One in eight employers have said they would be reluctant to hire a woman who they thought may go on to have children in the future, a new survey has found. 

A “significant” minority (12 per cent) of the 802 HR decision-makers surveyed said they were ‘unsure’ about hiring women who may have children in the future.

The poll also found a larger proportion of men held this view compared to women. Of the male respondents, 14 per cent said they were reluctant to hire women who might become pregnant in the future, compared to 10 per cent of women. 

Despite the scale of the problem, the survey did find the number of HR decision-makers holding this view has reduced over time, falling from 16 per cent in 2018 and 18 per cent in 2017.

However, among women the reluctance to recruit other women who may become pregnant has been stagnant at 10 per cent over the last three years.

In the survey, conducted by charity Young Women’s Trust and YouGov, one in seven (14 per cent) HR decision-makers said their organisation took into account whether a woman was pregnant or had children during decisions about career progression or promotion – down from 22 per cent in 2018 and 25 per cent in 2017.

Joe Levenson, Young Women’s Trust’s director of communications and campaigns, said it was encouraging that fewer bosses were reluctant to employ women who may go on to grow their families, but there was still a worrying trend of discrimination in the workplace and recruitment processes.  

“There can be no room for complacency as ‘dinosaur bosses’ are still found in many workplaces, unfairly overlooking women when it comes to recruitment and promotion and breaking the law in the process,” Levenson said. 

Other experts also expressed their disappointment that such discriminatory behaviours were still pervasive in the workplace. Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said the survey’s findings were particularly upsetting as HR “should be leading the way in tackling discrimination in the workplace”.

Not only did it show discrimnation on the basis of protected characteristics, including gender, pregnancy or maternity, Miller added that said such attitudes could lead to businesses missing out on skilled talent because they were not being hired or given the opportunity to progress in the business.

“Employers need to ensure that anyone in the organisation responsible for recruitment or promotion decisions has the appropriate training on the law as well as fair and inclusive practices, and that the expectation is set that discrimination will not be tolerated,” she said.

Chloé Chambraud, gender equality director at Business in the Community, said businesses needed to quickly take significant steps to bring the number of employers asking illegal questions about women and their current or future caregiving responsibilities “down to zero”. 

“The business imperative for realising women’s potential in the workplace is clear: an inclusive workplace culture enhances employee engagement, boosts productivity, meets the diverse needs of customers and suppliers, and improves brand reputation,” Chambraud said.

She also highlighted the assumption that caregiving responsibilities would only impact on one gender held women back in the workplace and was a barrier to closing the gender pay gap. 

Earlier this year, the latest British Social Attitudes survey revealed that four in 10 (40 per cent) British people still believe mothers should take the lion's share of paid parental leave and take on the majority of caring responsibilities for their newborn children.

Only a third (34 per cent) of Brits supported equally shared parental leave – up from 22 per cent in 2012 – while just 12 per cent felt the mother should take the entire period.

Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, said the attitudes highlighted by the Young Women’s Trust survey and other research showed that discrimination during the recruitment process and in the workplace damages women’s careers contributes to the gender pay gap.

“With a no-deal Brexit on the horizon the competition for talent will increase so companies will be forced to address their conscious and unconscious bias towards mothers if they want to thrive in post-Brexit Britain,” Brearley added.