Pregnancy discrimination needs ‘urgent action’, say MPs

The government’s strategy to safeguard pregnant workers lacks detail and effectiveness, according to a report by the Women and Equalities Committee.

Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace
A new publication by the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) states that pregnant women and mothers report more discrimination and poor treatment at work now than they did a decade ago. It calls for "urgent action and leadership" in order to tackle the problem, stating that the Government’s approach “lacks urgency and bite”.The need for health and safety assessments to be undertaken by employers was highlighted following troubling findings.
  • Two in five women surveyed felt there was a risk to, or impact on, their health or welfare at work
  • 38 per cent said their employer did not initiate a conversation about risks when when informed of the pregnancy 
  • 10 per cent said that their employer had identified risks and had not tackled them
  • One in 25 left their job because pregnancy and maternity-related health and safety risks were not tackled 
The report also stated that changes in the law were necessary to help protect new and expectant mothers from redundancy. It highlighted the German system as a good example, due to its policy of protecting women against dismissal from the beginning of pregnancy up until four months after childbirth.A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission estimated that, on average, 54,000 mothers leave their jobs annually as a result of pregnancy discrimination. Studies included in the WEC report highlighted a need for "better and earlier signposting to help women learn about their rights, with suggestions for a comprehensive guide with advice and employers’ responsibilities regarding pregnancy, maternity and returning to work".

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Laura Harrison, People and Strategy director at the CIPD – the professional body for HR and people development – had the following to say."It’s inexcusable that discrimination against pregnant women at work is still a problem in the UK. Besides the damage this discrimination causes to women’s self-confidence and earnings potential, there’s a resultant loss of value for employers – not just in terms of talent but possibly also of the engagement of women."Employers must be alert to, and actively pre-empt, risks of discrimination, from the point at which a woman makes her pregnancy known. Not only would such an approach give women the opportunity to let colleagues know how they feel, but it’s also a chance for any potentially discriminatory problems to be caught early on and stopped."Line managers are the key to this open dialogue, so it’s important that they are well-equipped with the knowledge and people management skills to ensure they do not discriminate against pregnant women and new mothers themselves. They also need to act as champions for the value that women bring to the workforce, whichever stage they are at, to mitigate against discrimination elsewhere."HR plays an important role, ensuring that good paternity, maternity and parental leave practices are as coherent and inclusive as possible, and communicated sufficiently to everyone. Practices for women before and after maternity leave should be as smooth as possible."More broadly, employers need to encourage a supportive and inclusive culture so that people's behaviour reflects the right values and behaviour around diversity, and this needs to come from the top. Many need to also rethink how they recruit, retain and develop female talent, as well as the value of investing in people management skills and improving workplace practices."Social expectations around diversity and equality in the workplace are on the up – employers need to make sure they aren’t left behind in this reality."

In the Autumn 2016 issue of Relocate magazine (out mid-September), we'll ask how measures to close the gender pay gap and promote women's leadership can be shared across borders.

For more about HR and the CIPD, see our Human Resources section.

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