Almost one in seven (15 per cent) employers say they would be reluctant to recruit a woman they thought might later have children, according to research published today that shows an alarming level of everyday maternity discrimination in the labour market.
The survey, conducted for women’s charity the Young Women’s Trust, heard that of 800 professionals with power over HR decision-making, a significant number would think twice about hiring women in their 20s and 30s who might have children in the future – even though it is illegal to make recruitment decisions on these grounds.
The figure was greater among men (18 per cent), although 10 per cent of women had the same concerns. Overall, 29 per cent of those surveyed expressed some degree of concern about hiring women under 40.
The findings follow the trust’s earlier research, which found that almost 40 per cent of young mums had been illegally asked in job interviews about how being a mother would affect their ability to work.
A quarter of respondents in the latest survey indicated that their organisation takes account of whether a woman is pregnant or has young children during decisions about career progression or promotion – a further violation of the law.
Around a third said men and women would never take an equal role in caring for children, and a further 27 per cent said it would take more than 10 years for men to take an equal role in parenting.
The previous research from the trust correlates with these new findings. Its poll of 319 mothers aged between 16 and 24 previously revealed that a quarter experienced discrimination when their employer found out they were pregnant.
Eighty per cent said employers’ attitudes towards pregnant women or mothers with young children played an important role in helping them find work.
Dr Carole Easton, chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust, said: “It’s no wonder women are held back in the workplace when employers have such outdated, discriminatory views. It is employers and our economy that miss out on the talents of young women as a result. Young women who want to work are meanwhile struggling to make ends meet and finding themselves in debt.”
She urged employers to value young women’s contributions to workplaces, and do more to accommodate them, including by offering more flexible and part-time working opportunities.
Maria Miller MP, chair of the women and equalities committee, said that “despite it being illegal to make recruitment decisions based on assumptions about a woman’s role in childcare, these figures show there is still a huge problem with pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
“We must tackle the assumption that it is only women who want to take time away from work to care for their children. There is still far more to be done in this area – and I would encourage ministers not to let these issues slip down the agenda.”
In a separate House of Commons select committee debate heard yesterday, a panel of expert witnesses led by Miller put forward evidence on women’s experiences of sexism and sexual harassment in universities, workplaces, public spaces and online.
Scarlet Harris, TUC senior strategy and development officer, said the government was “so good at measuring other things that it seems odd there are so few sources of data” on the subject. She advocated benchmarking behavioural changes.
“Once we have a better picture of the problem, we will consider further work on this in the new year,” Miller said.
Earlier this week, the Equality and Human Rights Commission revealed that it had written to the chairs of FTSE 100 companies, and other large UK employers, demanding evidence of safeguards they had in place to prevent sexual harassment, and invited individuals to respond to a survey of experiences of harassment, both by 19 January.