Pregnancy and maternity discrimination occurs when an individual treats you unfairly because you are pregnant, breastfeeding or you have recently given birth, explained Citizens Advice, a network of 316 independent charities across the UK. In the workplace, it also involves treating a woman such as an applicant or employee unfairly due to pregnancy, childbirth, or any medical condition associated with maternity.
Pregnancy discrimination happens when colleagues or superiors demonstrate subtly hostile behaviors such as social isolation, stereotypes, and rude interpersonal treatment. The latter can include transferring the pregnant worker to less-desirable shifts or assignments or making vulgar jokes and inappropriate comments.
Discrimination and Disadvantages Mothers Face In the Workplace
The HM (Her Majesty’s) Government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a non-departmental public body in England and Wales, found that 77% of mothers had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy maternity leave, and/or on return from maternity leave. 11% of mothers felt forced to quit their job, which could include being dismissed (1%). They could also be made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not (1%) or treated so poorly to the point that the mothers felt that they had to quit their job (9%).
20% said they experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer/colleagues. 10% of mothers were discouraged from participating in antenatal appointments. 68% submitted a flexible working request and of these, three in four of these mothers reported that their request was approved. Sadly, 51% of those who had their flexible working request approved said it led to negative consequences.
On the other hand, 84% of employers explained that it was in their interest to support pregnant women and those on maternity leave. The employers supported these groups because it increased staff retention (58%) and bolstered employees’ morale (20%). However, 70% of employers said they felt women should declare their pregnancy during the recruitment process. Likewise, a quarter of employers said it was reasonable to ask women about their plans to have children.
Most employers believed that pregnant women (80%) and mothers returning from maternity leave (78%) were as committed to work as other employees. But some employers expressed that pregnancy puts an unreasonable cost burden on the workplace (27%). 17% said that pregnant women and mothers were less interested in career advancement and promotion than other employees whereas 7% did not think mothers returning from maternity leave were as committed as other members of their team.
Mothers working in the education sector were less likely to have felt forced to leave their jobs (7% versus 11% on average), to report harassment or negative comments (14% versus 20%), and report a negative experience when requesting for flexible working arrangements (7% versus 11%). Those working in the real estate and business sector were less likely to report a risk or impact on their health and welfare (35% versus 31%). Mothers working in the finance industry said their employers were more likely to turn down requests for flexible working arrangements (43% versus 14%).
How Does Maternity Discrimination Affect Mothers and Babies?
Dr. Kaylee Hackney and colleagues and colleagues surveyed 252 pregnant employees, reported Bryan Robinson of business news Forbes. Published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the authors measured the employees’ demographics, post-partum depressive symptoms, perceived pregnancy discrimination, and more. Dr. Hackney and colleagues found that pregnancy discrimination has a negative impact on the health of the mother and baby. Further, it was correlated to increased levels of post-partum depressive symptoms for mothers, including lower birth rates and gestational ages and increased visits to the doctor for babies.
Dr. Hackney, who is also the lead researcher of the study, concluded that pregnancy discrimination negatively affects the mother and the baby she is carrying while experiencing discrimination. “This just shows the far-reaching implications of workplace discrimination and highlights the importance of addressing it,” she added. Pregnancy discrimination also harms all workers, as it affects women’s earning power whenever their career is disrupted by a period of unemployment, explained Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, cited Liz Elting of business news Forbes.
Pregnant employees may face discipline for violating their company’s policies on timeliness and attendance. They may be disciplined just for having an appointment with their doctor or have conditions like morning sickness. Such conditions prevent women from following their usual schedules or routines. Sometimes, an employer may even tell an expectant employee that she is a “liability” because of the physical demands of her job. Although the worker is capable of fulfilling her duties at work, the employer may choose to remove her from her position.
How to Address Maternity Discrimination to Improve Mothers’ Health and Wellbeing?
Workers can take a stand by familiarizing themselves with local laws and their firm’s policy on pregnancy discrimination. If employees don’t think that the issue has not been met with empathy, they may opt to consult their managers. Workers are recommended to be assertive rather than waiting for the company to make a move. They should be ready to speak if their superior violate their boundaries.
Thomas, who is also the author of “Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Work,” suggested employees to keep track of inappropriate comments and changes in behavior that may hint a biased response to expectant mothers. It is best to arm themselves with a plan (ex: who will cover the work during maternity leave) before discussing their pregnancy with their superior.
Since maternity discrimination affects the health of the mother and the baby, managers can offer flexible work arrangements to allow expectant employees to go to prenatal appointments or attend to a pregnancy-related medical condition. Managers are advised to keep an open line of communication with an employee about the kind of support she needs during her pregnancy. If employers do not address pregnancy discrimination, workplace performance will plummet and the company’s reputation will be tarnished. Ignoring maternity discrimination will make it difficult for organizations to retain talented workers. In the end, discriminated employees can always look for healthier and supportive workplaces that accommodate their needs.
Pregnancy discrimination affects the health of mothers and babies. It can also affect the earning power of mothers and the firm’s integrity. To retain talent, organizations must establish more family-friendly policies to help expectant workers feel safe during their pregnancy.