This year, Citizens Advice have reported a 25% rise in people seeking advice on pregnancy and maternity discrimination and a shocking 77% of mothers report negative or discrimatory treatment.
As you know, I’m Momma Boss, I am very much pro working Momma and so this is a subject that I feel very strongly about and so I thought I’d write about the reasons why I believe it is on the rise and why it is such a big problem in the workplace.
The first and most obvious point to acknowledge is that quite simply, more women work full time now. I’m only 30 but in my lifetime there has been a massive shift in how women work, probably thanks to the power shoulder 80s yuppie era. I’m all for women breaking the mould and doing jobs that have historically been done by men but this is a key point because quite simply, the more women that work in full time careers, the more probable it is that maternity issues in the workplace will arise.
In my childhood, it was very normal for moms to be ‘just moms’ or housewives and it was entirely normal for dads to be the sole or at least majority income. Nowadays there are so many working moms and so many career minded women that will potentially be mothers one day.
I must also acknowledge this rather negative point and I don’t mean to cause offence but it most definitely does account for a small percentage of discrimination claims. We live in a blame culture now. Everyone wants to blame somebody else. “I wore high shoes, got drunk and slipped…” it’s the nightclubs fault. No, it’s your fault, you’re an adult! You’re responsible for your own activity. Nobody wants to own up to any responsibility these days and I do believe that a very small percentage of claims are women that have been crap at their job, been dismissed or disciplined and straight away blamed it on pregnancy.
Is it because you were pregnant or is it because you were shit? In all honesty? I’m aware that we are allowed time off for ante-natal care but it can indicate a work ethic. There is a difference between somebody that books a 9am appointment so they can be in work by 11am and somebody that tries for a midday appointment so that there is no point going in a 9am and no point coming in a 3pm so they just take the day off. Yes sometimes you have no control over appointment times, but not all of them. I always saw my midwife on my day off or after work! We’re not ‘entitled’ to extra time off, we’re allowed time off for appointments. If you milk it, your boss isn’t being unreasonable to notice!
Like I say, I do believe that type of case is a very small minority but I’m not going to overlook the fact that it does happen. The vast majority of cases are genuine because by the very fact that you have a career, you have strong work ethic!
I believe a key factor is the fact that most companies are still being run by men, according to Fortune 500, only 4% of the top 500 companies have female CEOs. We can argue that women do not progress as much because they take career breaks to have children but the point I want to make is, if so many companies are being operated by men (only 19% of board members are women) then a male boss will never know what it is like to work and have a baby. Never. It is physically impossible to ever have a true understanding. Even if they have wives and children, it isn’t the same.
For that reason, I think a lot of discriminatory cases are due to a complete lack of understanding and compassion. Not always necessarily out of malicious intent and purposeful discrimination but it is just a subject that companies do not fully understand how to approach.
Sadly, a lot of companies do make assumptions which although they might believe they are being considerate, they’re not, they are being patronising and dismissive. For example, a boss might assume that you are no longer able to do work at home and offload some clients to a colleague. That is unfair and discriminatory as it is a demotion from duties even if the intent behind it was positive.
There are also negative assumptions, a lot of managers assume that you will not be capable of doing your job heavily pregnant and try to manage women out during early pregnancy by trying to make life difficult in the way of job security threats, gossiping, unnecessary disciplinaries etc. All of this behaviour is illegal and needs to be stopped.
I’ve even heard of a few cases where women have failed probation or been made redundant. In many situations there would be a case here, these are often the angles which companies believe to be ‘loopholes’ to sacking pregnant women. They’re not. Redundancy should always be a last resort and you can only fail probation if they have accurately recorded your progress and have made an effort to train you in areas where you are failing. You cannot fail a probation if it has not been outlined what is expected of you, you should have a contract and regular reviews. You could still have a case even if it appears to be ‘fair’.
Another reason I believe it is on the rise is that women are getting stronger now, more women are willing to fight for their rights than ever before so that actual number of cases might be the same as 5 or 10 years ago but women are much more empowered nowadays and more likely to speak up and fight their corner. This is potentially fuelled by social media and 1. How much support is available, at the click of a button you can get 500,000 shares by women supporting you and 2. Companies don’t want their mistreatment sprayed all over social media so standing up for yourself has more weight behind it when your story might potentially go viral!
You can stand up for yourself and have nothing to lose, they either offer a settlement and compensate you or they ignore it and you’re free to speak up and share your story virally to empower other women to speak up!
This is not the 1950s, if you are or have been mistreated, stand up, speak up and fight your case!
In a court or tribunal you only need to prove that your mistreatment would not have taken place ‘but for your pregnancy’. You’re not paranoid, you’re not a troublemaker, trust your instincts and beliefs. If you’re being treated badly… Stand up!