• International Workplace
  • 7 March 2018

Employers in the dark ages over recruitment of pregnant women and new mothers

British employers are “living in the dark ages” and have worrying attitudes towards unlawful behaviour when it comes to recruiting women, new statistics from the Equality and Human Rights Commission reveal.

Showing that many businesses’ attitudes are decades behind the law, the survey of 1,106 senior decision makers in business found around a third (36%) of private sector employers agree that it is reasonable to ask women about their plans to have children in the future during recruitment.

The new statistics also reveal six in ten employers (59%) agree that a woman should have to disclose whether she is pregnant during the recruitment process, and almost half (46%) of employers agree it is reasonable to ask women if they have young children during the recruitment process.

Conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Commission, the survey was commissioned to understand managers’ attitudes around pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

Looking beyond antiquated recruitment beliefs, the survey also found that, when it comes to maternity discrimination in the workplace, 44% of employers agree that women should work for an organisation for at least a year before deciding to have children.

What’s more, the same number agrees that women who have had more than one pregnancy while in the same job can be a “burden” to their team.

In fact, 40% of employers claim to have seen at least one pregnant woman in their workplace “take advantage” of their pregnancy, whilst around a third believe that women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are “generally less interested in career progression” when compared to other employees in their company.

Financially, four in ten (41%) employers agreed that pregnancy in the workplace puts “an unnecessary cost burden” on the workplace.

The Commission is calling on employers to put a stake in the ground to eliminate these attitudes and, more importantly, pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace for good.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“It is a depressing reality that, when it comes to the rights of pregnant woman and new mothers in the workplace, we are still living in the dark ages.

“We should all know very well that it is against the law not to appoint a woman because she is pregnant or might become pregnant. Yet we also know that women routinely get asked questions around family planning in interviews. It’s clear that many employers need more support to better understand the basics of discrimination law and the rights of pregnant women and new mothers.”

While there is a clear need for change in employer perceptions, the poll also highlighted that employers are struggling to provide pregnant women and new mothers with the support they need.

Half (51%) of employers agree that there is sometimes resentment amongst employees towards women who are pregnant or on maternity leave. Furthermore, around a third (36%) of employers disagree that it is easy to protect expectant or new mothers from discrimination in the workplace. 

The Commission has launched the Working Forward campaign, which asks businesses to commit to taking action on at least two of the three action areas in addition to leadership: employee confidence, supporting line managers and flexible working. It also provides employers with advice, guidance and resources to deliver on their pledges.

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