Stigma remains around maternity leave: new research

A survey of 2,000 working mothers by lawyers Slater and Gordon finds 44% unhappy with how they were treated by their employer during and after pregnancy.

Stigma remains around maternity leave: new research
Despite legislation protecting women against unfavourable treatment while pregnant or on maternity leave, 42% say attitudes towards them changed when they announced they were pregnant.One in ten have experienced inappropriate behaviour or comments from colleagues. One woman described how she was denied extra help because it was ‘"her fault for getting pregnant," while others were criticised for taking "free" time off.

Poor employer support for maternity leave

While many mothers return for financial reasons or simply because they want to, a significant minority worry about being side-lined, edged out or feel pressure from their boss to go back, Slater and Gordon report.One in three (30%) felt their managers wouldn’t have supported them staying off for any longer, and 39% weren’t sure their job would be waiting for them when they went back.A further third (36%) said their role had changed on their return and 8% found themselves at risk of redundancy.

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Protection through the law

Just 12% of working mothers take a full year’s maternity leave (a legal entitlement) and close to one in five (18%) take four months or less, according to the research.Commenting on the findings, Harriet Bowtell, senior employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: “Unfortunately discrimination towards pregnant women in the workplace is still very much apparent."All pregnant employees are entitled to 12 months maternity leave – it is unlawful discrimination to be treated unfavourably because a woman is pregnant or because she is taking maternity leave."Women shouldn’t have to put up with inappropriate comments or behaviour regarding their pregnancy, if it happens they should immediately talk to their line manager or human resources. Women should act fast if they can – they only have three months to enforce their legal rights from the date of the act of discrimination, if they have to do that.”

Double-bind for working parents?

Slater and Gordon's survey offers further evidence of the experiences of women and working parents when managing work and family responsibilities.A study earlier this month of 1,000 male and female full-time workers with children by OfficeGenie found 44% had difficulty either first- or second-hand returning to work after pregnancy.For 47%, the reason is apparent ineffectiveness of shared parental leave legislation due in part to the size of the gender pay gap. For another 30%, employers’ “their employer’s anti-SPL sentiment played a role.”

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