Maternity discrimination in the workplace

Written by Jo Cook on 31 August 2016


Hi all,

There's a lot of discussion going on in the news today around pregnancy issues, maternity rights, paternity rights, how this affects the workplace and comparing this between the UK and other countries around the world.

We have a news item on this today: MPs demand protections for working women against pregnancy discrimination

And also a feature from last year: Is pregnancy discrimination putting women off having children?


What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you feel you've been discriminated against as a pregnant woman, a mum or a dad? I'm hearing people on the radio say that they have small businesses and struggle with maternity leave - so how do you see the workforce issue or the advice around it?

Or maybe you are in a support role and have examples of success?



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Submitted on 1 September, 2016 - 10:51

Hi Jo

Interesting topic. I am not a mother, so I don't have direct experience.

As a starter for ten, I note how many of my women coaching clients change jobs, e.g. from the top shot front line lawyer to the back office research support, in order to accommodate the demands of family life.  In other words, they take the lion's share of parenting responsibility and this means their career prospects are altered - less demanding hours, lower pay and promotion prospects.

I have worked with men in other countries (e.g. Sweden) where there is far greater support for dual parenting and no man bats an eyelid at taking paternity leave.

I think this disparity is the mother of all issues in this area in my eyes, i.e. as long as it falls to one partner or another to prioritise parenting, the partner who takes the main parenting role (mostly women but not always) are subject to a certain amount of discrimination.

I'm not sure which is chicken and which is egg in this... does this change because culturally we shift or even start to demand greater equality?  Working practices have shifted hugely during my career (e.g. increased working from home, the use of e-mail leading to greater flexibility but also far more out of hours communication, hot desking, dress down Friday, to name just a few things) so it seems perfectly possible that they might shift further.  I wonder what more becomes possible if parents undertake to share the responsibilities that come with having children more equally.

Look forward to tracking this discussion,




Submitted on 1 September, 2016 - 11:35

Snap Dorothy I am not a Mum however I don't think flexible working is limited to parents or carers and in the future I imagine we will live in more enlightened times where things don't need to be enshrined in law for a supposed cultural change to happen.  I left permanent work in part due to a lack of flexibility.  My employer was quite happy for me to continue working as I always had and because I wasn't a parent I had no legal right to request flexible working.  Big employers make choices about their culture and I was lucky enough and brave enough to choose to leave.

I do have empathy for small employers who do face a challenge, often with no paid HR support, on what to do with employees who want something a little different and are legally entitled to ask.  The burden of employment legislation on all areas is hard for small employers.  It's not impossible and as small businesses continue to be as prevalent and important as they are to society we need to help them to not be afraid of how to handle these 'laws' and requests without resorting to discrimination.  It's hard.  We have to continue to progress and as Dorothy has shared, look to other cultures for ideas.  There's more to this than passing more laws.