New report on maternity discrimination highlights retention issues

A new government report on pregnancy and maternity discrimination highlights some major issues for companies that fail to retain female staff post pregnancy.

Findings from the study “Pregnancy and Maternity related Discrimination and Disadvantage” show that 11% of women were either dismissed, made redundant or treated so badly during their pregnancy that they felt forced to leave their jobs.

The report produced with the Equality and Human Rights Commission surveyed 3,034 employers and 3,254 mothers to assess the level of pregnancy related discrimination in workplaces. It revealed that 20% of working mothers, equivalent to 100,000 women, reported having experienced harassment or negative comments because of either pregnancy or flexible working. A further 10% said that they were treated unfavourably on their return to work.

High earners with salaries of over £30,000 per annum in more senior occupational groups were more likely to report a lack of support or negative consequences following approval of flexible working requests.

It is neither fair nor practical to develop people’s skills and then have them leave once they become a parent.”

 Philippa Oldham, head of transport and manufacturing, IMechE

Philippa Oldham, head of transport and manufacturing at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said that the report showed that engineering could do more to accommodate the needs of working parents.

“From the data it is clear that where women make up a larger percentage of the total workforce, they tend to have a better overall experience. However, those that are in typically male dominated sectors seem to have experienced a higher amount of discrimination.  This may be due to the lack of visibility or experience with dealing with parental demands,” she said. “

We need to find ways to accommodate the needs of working parents by offering options like flexible working or more part-time positions. It is neither fair nor practical to develop people’s skills and then have them leave once they become a parent.”

Professional institutions and companies in engineering, infrastructure and architecture all report a drop off in female staff at mid career level and a lack of senior female staff. The Institution of Civil Engineers for example has 18% female at graduate level but just 10% overall. With graduate intake numbers increasing thanks to increased efforts to encourage more women into STEM careers, this good work could be undermined if firms are unable to retain women once they become parents.

Oldham pointed to findings in the report that show where firms can do more. Communication with mothers on maternity leave is poor with only 57% of companies aware of keeping in touch days and only 25% using them. This awareness was shown to increase with the size of the firm. Employers reported that they were concerned that their intentions would be misinterpreted if they got in contact with staff who were on parental leave, however women surveyed said that the most common problem was not enough contact from employers.

“Discrimination is unlawful and the majority of firms recognise the economic benefits of diverse workforces,” said Lena Levy, head of labour market policy at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). “That’s why businesses, wherever possible, should adopt a presumption in favour of flexible working and encourage both men and women to take up shared parental leave to help mothers return to work more easily after childbirth.”



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