Is pregnancy discrimination putting women off having children?

Research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has shown that working mothers are still being penalised for having children. 

A survey by them found that around 54,000 new mothers in Britain may be forced out of their jobs each year after having a baby. With mothers still suffering this type of discrimination, I was not surprised to see the results of a survey carried out by my organisation AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians), which found that over half of women would consider not having children because of the risk to their career.

AAT surveyed 2000 women between the ages of 16 and 45, and their responses showed that half of them believed that having a baby poses such a risk to their career that they would consider not having children at all. The survey also found that 49 per cent of women who don’t currently have children feel that their existing career doesn’t offer them the flexibility they would need to start a family.

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Other findings from AAT’s survey showed that 55 per cent of mothers admitted that balancing childcare and work has been a barrier to staying in work, with one in five (20 per cent) stating that a lack of support from their employer has made life as a working mum more difficult. Many mothers also said that pressure had taken its toll on their maternity leave, with 38 per cent saying they took six months or less as maternity leave, and 30 per cent saying that the fear of losing their job was the biggest driver for them returning to work early.

Treating women less favourably because they have a child, are pregnant, or because they have taken or want to take maternity leave, is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010, However, the fact that 11 per cent of the women interviewed for the EHRC’s research reported that they had been dismissed or felt they had no choice but to leave their job after having a baby, shows that discrimination is still happening.

Further measures have been brought in to try to end maternity related discrimination, such as shared parental leave, which came into effect on 5th April this year. This says that parents of babies can share parental leave and pay following the first two weeks after their baby is born​. Eligible parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay in the first year of having a child, instead of only the mother taking time out. This will hopefully lessen the stigma for mothers taking maternity leave, as organisations see an increase in both parents taking time off to spend with their babies.

Being able to request flexible working hours is another measure designed to help parents at work. There is the right to ask if you need to change the hours you work because of childcare and have your request be considered according to standard criteria. This should also give mothers the flexibility they need to continue their career after having a baby.

AAT’s research shows that there are a lot of women who worry about balancing their family lives and careers, seeing themselves as having to make a choice between the two. This is something that needs to change and will require a cultural shift in attitudes. Despite shared parental leave and other legislation to protect against the maternity related discrimination, the EHRC’s research shows that there is still some way to go until women and mothers will be able to succeed in their careers without worrying about the impact that having a child will have.






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