See the stats on pregnancy-related discrimination, as well as real examples of such discrimination, below. And share your own experiences in the comments field.
On the one hand, we’re investing in working mothers: Governments and employers alike are coming up with incentives and programs to increase women’s workforce participation.
On the other, we’re discriminating against those same women, whether they use such incentives or not.
According to research by the Australian Human Rights Commission on the prevalence of pregnancy related discrimination, 49% of women report experiencing discrimination either during pregnancy, while on maternity leave or during their return to work. Some of the experiences mothers and fathers came up against are listed below.
If the effects on working mothers aren’t concerning enough, we must consider the wider ramifications of these findings from the AHRC – particularly how pregnancy-related discrimination hurts workforce participation.
According to the survey, 32% of those mothers who did experience discrimination at some point during the process of having a new child and returning to work, either went looking for another job or resigned.
They may have become part of the large cohort of women who ‘opt out’ of the workforce, or away from demanding careers, after they have children. Too often we blame women for such choices but as this research shows, many women may simply feel they have no other choice.
Indeed, as consultant Prue Gilbert told me this morning, discrimination is often a major underlying reason behind women leaving their profession or the workforce altogether – despite blaming such a decision on other factors, such as the cost of childcare.
“Discrimination underpins all these decisions,” she said. “It’s personal. If they don’t fell valued, then they’re going to opt out – and they’ll use other reasons to justify it.”
As the Grattan Institute has found, Australia could increase its national GDP by $25 billion with just a 6% increase in women’s workforce participation.
It’s a point repeatedly acknowledged by those promoting participation measures, including by the Abbott government, which has positioned its $5.5 billion paid parental leave scheme as the policy centerpiece of its response to improving conditions for women at work.
But what’s the point of such a scheme if around half of those women who receive it will experience pregnancy-related discrimination – and a portion move on to later opt out of the workforce as a result?
A return on investment when it comes to increasing women’s workforce participation will only be a only as good as the culture and structures in place to support women, no matter what their status outside of the workplace.
While the report finds the existing legal framework protecting new parents is “reasonably comprehensive”, it still concludes that protecting against discrimination could be improved by addressing a number of areas.
Seemingly, it’s the “complementary strategies” that could really help — especially in adjusting workplace cultures that perpetuate pregnancy discrimination. An employer may have brilliant policies and strategies in place for supporting pregnant women and new parents, but ultimately its up to the line managers of such parents to demonstrate a culture of inclusivity.
Change is only as good as the culture that supports it.
The AHRC received 447 online submissions – 333 of them from individuals who had experienced discrimination, 55 from community organisations and 49 from employers, business and industry associations.
Of the 2000 mother surveyed, it found:
• 49% had experienced discrimination on at least one occasion
• 27% experienced it during pregnancy
• 32% when they requested or took parental leave
• 34% experienced it due to their family responsibilities
• 8% while breastfeeding or expressing milk
• 18% of mothers said they were made redundant/restructured, did not have a contract renewed or were dismissed because of their pregnancy, parental leave, family responsibilities or breastfeeding requirements.
• 84% of mothers who experienced discrimination reported a negative impact as a result; with 72% saying it affected their mental health and 42% that it affected them financially
• 32% of mothers who experienced discrimination at some point went on to look for another job or resigned
• 91% of mothers who experienced discrimination did not make a formal complaint.
Some of the submissions to the report highlighted the regular problemswomen – and some men – experience upon announcing they’re pregnant, while pregnant, while on leave or on their return to work.
There was this from one women while pregnant:
“One of the other men in the office had started calling me ‘placenta brain’ when I was pregnant.”
And another, on coping with morning sickness at work:
“Even though he knew I had morning sickness, he’d text me while I was vomiting and tell me to get back onto the floor immediately. I had bad back and leg pain, but I wasn’t allowed to sit down. If I did, he’d click his fingers at me like I was a dog and tell me to stand up.”
It’s not just women. This was submitted by a father:
“So I went back to my employer and [said], I want to take paternity leave. And he laughed! That’s for the mum!…They don’t want to make it easy for male employees to access it because it costs them money.
Then there’s the feeling of simply being ignored while on leave:
“I’ve been off now for eight months and not one phone call, nothing. I’ve since heard from other staff members that my job has been made redundant, but no one’s told me, no management has told me.”
And for those seeking flexible work, the idea that you could set a ‘dangerous’ precedent:
“I was given all sorts of excuses about why this [part-time role] couldn’t happen – he didn’t want to set a precedent for other women – there were simply too many in the school on maternity leave; the students couldn’t cope with more than one teacher; job sharing doesn’t work – they tried it once and it was a disaster.”
Meanwhile, on the ‘limitations’ of working part time:
“I strongly believe that my decision to have a child was a career killer…I am reminded every day of the limitations of working part time…I have not been given challenging work, well below my skills and qualifications reporting to graduates even though I had been working in the company for more than 7 years before going on maternity leave. My career has not progressed since I got pregnant.”
Can you relate to any of the above? Share your experiences below.