Employers are still practicing unethical and unlawful behavior around pregnancy, a poll by the Equality and Human Rights Commission has found. The survey of 1,106 senior decision makers revealed that businesses are ‘living in the dark ages’ when it comes to maternity rights, with worrying statistics around the treatment of women in the recruitment process.
Despite it being illegal to not appoint a woman because she is pregnant or could become so, over one third of those surveyed (36%) said it is reasonable to ask women about future plans to have children, with 46% also asking if they have young children. Over half (59%) agreed that a woman should have to disclose whether she is pregnant during the recruitment process.
The statistics come in the wake of a drive towards shared parental leave, which last week was found to have a take up of only 2%. While it shouldn’t be so that employers see childcare as a burden, sharing childcare responsibilities equally between men and women could attack this archaic ideal that women are the sole bearers of childcare and ease pressure on women in the recruitment process.
The Commission has urged employers to eliminate these attitudes, after also finding that 41% of employers think pregnancy puts an ‘unnecessary cost burden’ on the workplace and around one third believing women who become pregnant are ‘less interested in career progression’ than other employees.
Essentially, these employers are undermining the wish the majority of our population have which is to start a family and enjoy a life outside of work. It is yet another example of a lack of flexibility employers show, which we found disproportionally impacts women, with working mothers losing £1.3 trillion in potential earnings.
This oppressive working culture, coupled with sexist ideals about women and pregnancy, only perpetuates the gender pay gap, and puts even more pressure on anyone who wishes to start a family. While the Commission is aiming to drive change with the Working Forward initiative, a campaign to ensure workplaces treat pregnant women and new parents ethically, there is a further issue to be tackled beyond implementing new business practices.
Employers act on their own views and opinions, which can often stem from discriminatory places, and so the issue takes more than just legislative change around employment, proven by the fact it has been illegal to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy since 2010, yet employers still do it. This is a problem created by cultural values towards women and an overreaching working culture which expects too much from employees.
Cultural change cannot simply begin from legislation, as proven by PLAN International – a charity working toward ending FGM - but takes educating people on the oppressive ideals they practice, unknowingly or not. While it may be redundant to force business owners to sit through lectures on gender discrimination, there is an argument for educating children to understand gender imbalance and the necessity of work life balance.
If we grow up with different cultural ideals than the current generation of business owners, perhaps there’ll be hope in the future than the next generation of ‘senior decision makers’ will have less discriminatory views around women and families.
Until then, we can only hope the drive towards flexible working and shared parental leave will diminish the out-of-date ideal that women are the sole bearers of childcare and employees with a life outside of work are less committed to their job.
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