One in five (22 per cent) HR professionals admit that a woman being pregnant or a mother affects her promotion chances, research published yesterday revealed.
The YouGov survey of more than 800 UK HR professionals involved in employment decisions also discovered more than one in 10 (12 per cent) said women were taken less seriously in their organisation when they returned from maternity leave.
Dr Carole Easton, chief executive of Young Women’s Trust – the charity that commissioned the research – said: “The level of discrimination that Young Women’s Trust has uncovered against young mothers who are in work or looking for jobs is shocking. It is in everyone’s interest to help young mothers who want to work.”
The research also found a fifth (21 per cent) of those polled agreed pregnancy within the first year of employment was frowned upon in the workplace.
Carol-Anne Baker, a consultant family solicitor at Bridge Law Solicitors, said she was unsurprised by the findings and, in her experience, women who have or want a family were still seen as “inferior career people”.
“Employers just see the cost issue of paying maternity pay and don't see beyond that,” she said. “It seems to me it is about self-interest rather than understanding and respect, and employers need to be less short-sighted.”
A separate survey of more than 4,000 18-30 year olds by Young Women’s Trust and Populus Data Solutions, published earlier this month, revealed 43 per cent of young women with children had experienced maternity discrimination.
Director of Conscious Benefits Donna Davis said employers who do not embrace the possible benefits of flexible working risk losing talent.
“It’s important for employers to remember that the majority of mums returning from maternity leave are coming back with a new determination and focus that can be a valuable asset to the business,” she said.
Jessica Chivers, CEO of The Talent Keeper Specialists and author of Mothers Work!, agreed employers should view returners as an asset.
“Women who experience positive maternity transitions are far more likely to stay with, and be a brand ambassador for, their organisations,” she said. “Line managers need to see beyond any short-term challenges associated with a colleague taking a period of extended leave and recognise the long-term value of an engaged and motivated employee.”
Research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission published in February found 41 per cent of employers agreed pregnancy placed ‘an unnecessary cost burden’ on the workplace. Half (51 per cent) of employers agreed there is sometimes resentment among employees towards women who are pregnant or on maternity leave.
Chivers added: “CEOs need to stop virtue signalling with lightweight commitments to ‘flavour of the month’ inclusion initiatives and take impactful actions such as appointing external hires who are pregnant, promoting women during or soon after their maternity leave and actively encouraging men to take shared parental leave.”
Meanwhile, the BBC reported today that 10 big-name companies will publish their parental leave and pay policies online after calls from Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson for greater transparency.
Chloe Chambraud, gender equality director at Business in the Community, said: “Publishing parental leave and pay policies can be a daunting step for employers, but it is vital in order to position themselves as an employer of choice.
“Businesses have a key role to play in ensuring all their employees – male and female – are informed about the opportunities available to them and receive the support they need to successfully balance their careers with caring responsibilities.”