Pregnant employees and working mothers: maternity discrimination

There is no doubt that women need jobs and businesses need women. It is also a fact that many women will become mothers at some point during their working lives.

So how is it possible for women, employers and business support agencies to work together to ensure businesses retain their talent and mothers keep their jobs?

The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal to treat women unfairly or less favourably on the grounds that they are pregnant or have given birth within the past 26 weeks.

Nonetheless, despite pregnancy and maternity legislation, the situation for pregnant women and mothers is far from perfect, according to new research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission ( EHRC ).

The new research* (March 2016) investigated how pregnant employees and working mothers fare in today’s labour market.

It involved surveying over 3,000 employers and 3,000 mothers across the UK to assess their perceptions of pregnancy and maternity issues at work.

Despite some progress, the picture is still bleak.

On the positive side, 84% of employers believe it is in their interest to support pregnant women and those on maternity leave.

The majority believe maternity returners are still committed to their work.

While these findings are welcome, other parts of the research show that this theoretical support does not necessarily translate into reality.

  • 70% of employers feel women should declare during recruitment if they are pregnant.
  • 28% believe enhanced protection from redundancy during Ordinary Maternity Leave is unreasonable.
  • 27% think that pregnancy puts an unreasonable cost burden on companies.
  • A quarter feel it is reasonable to ask women about their intention to have children during job interviews.

Also alarming is the fact that one in ten employers say they have low awareness of pregnant women’s rights, and just over two thirds reported they had not sought any information or guidance.

It is essential that employers improve their awareness of pregnancy and maternity rights to enhance the experience of their employees and help them to retain their workforce talent.

Despite the employers’ indication of support, 77% of mothers reported negative experiences at work, 20% have experienced negative comments or harassment and 11% felt forced into leaving their jobs.

Flexible working is an excellent option for employees and is popular among many mothers, since it allows them to balance family commitments while continuing to work in high-skill or full-time jobs.

However, 51% of mothers reported unfavourable treatment following approval of their requests to work flexibly.

This included being given more junior tasks or fewer opportunities than colleagues.

This demonstrates clearly that businesses need support to implement flexible working practices more effectively.

Agile Nation 2.

Chwarae Teg’s Agile Nation 2 project offers bespoke advice and support to small-to-medium sized businesses within the Welsh Government’s nine priority sectors and their supply chains.

Consultancy support is available on a variety of themes, including flexible working, equality and diversity, and making positive changes to business culture, as well as workshops on shared parental leave.

Effective implementation of equality initiatives will help businesses retain their talent and enable pregnant women and mothers to thrive in their jobs.


*Pregnancy and maternity discrimination report. Our findings in relation to pregnancy and maternity discrimination.