Quarter of young mums experience maternity discrimination

17 Mar 2017 By Marianne Calnan

As 40 per cent report being asked how being a parent will affect their work, experts warn employers are missing out on skilled workers

Almost four in 10 (39 per cent) young mothers have been questioned in job interviews about how being a mother would affect their ability to work, a new survey has revealed.

The research from the Young Women’s Trust also found that a quarter (25 per cent) of young mothers – aged between 16 and 24 – have experienced discrimination of some sort when their employer found out they were pregnant.

The study is additional evidence that young mothers experience discrimination more frequently than their older counterparts, said the Young Women’s Trust. Past research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that working mothers under the age of 25 were six times more likely than older mothers to report being dismissed after informing their employer of their pregnancy. A tenth of young mothers left their job after health and safety risks weren’t resolved, found the study, and twice as many young mums (compared to mothers of all ages) said they felt under pressure to hand in their notice when they became pregnant.

The Young Women’s Trust research also found that 26 per cent of young mothers had had requests for flexible working related to their pregnancy or child turned down by their employer.

Dr Carole Easton OBE, chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust, said the level of discrimination uncovered by the research was “shocking… It is in everyone’s interest to help young mothers who want to work.”

Sophie Kathir is one of the young mothers who shared her experiences with the Young Women’s Trust as part of the study. When Kathir said in a job interview that one of her achievements was studying while caring for a baby, “the atmosphere changed”, she said. “After a few brisk questions, it was over. I knew I wasn't going to get the job even before I received the call the next day. The interviewer said I was the perfect candidate but I had ‘too much baggage’ to undertake such a demanding job.”

It took Kathir nine months to her first job after university, and she avoided mentioning being a mother in any of her interviews. “It made me feel guilty to have to hide such a beautiful thing but I needed to get a job,” she said. “As a young mother, I never thought looking for work would be so hard.”

Four-fifths (80 per cent) of the 319 mothers surveyed said employers’ attitudes towards pregnant women or mothers with young children played an important role in their search for work – and this was more important than being offered different childcare options by the employer.  

More than four-fifths (83 per cent) of young mothers said it was important for more jobs to be advertised with flexible hours, while 81 per cent said they wanted to see more jobs advertised with part-time hours.

Rachel Suff, employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said employers needed robust policy frameworks to counter potential maternity or pregnancy discrimination. “Line managers need to be trained to eradicate unconscious bias, so that they do not make stereotypical and subjective assumptions based on gender when they are hiring. Employers need to find ways to ensure that open and honest conversations during an employee’s pregnancy are the norm,” she said.

A large proportion of the young mothers surveyed said being a parent had equipped them with valuable workplace skills, including budgeting (65 per cent), time management (60 per cent) and communication and negotiation (54 per cent).

“Young mothers have a huge amount to contribute to their workplaces and many want to be financially independent and support their families,” said Easton. “Tackling discrimination would benefit mums, businesses and the economy as a whole.”

Suff added: “The level of prejudice against young mothers means employers are losing out on valuable skills and talent that could become increasingly scarce in the face of Brexit.”
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