Fabian Hirose |  Management Consulting
55_swissdesignawardselection-48.jpg

Business, Industry & Capability Insights

Ideas that generate results

Pregnancy, Miscarriages, Abortions & Child-Free Women in Fashion
Image of Erin O’Connor by Nick Knight.

Image of Erin O’Connor by Nick Knight.

A new study has found that thousands of new mums in the UK are forced to leave their jobs due to discrimination.

Yesterday both Harriet Minter in The Guardian and Radhika Sanghani in The Telegraph highlighted that, 54,000 British women face bullying or betrayal at the workplace when they are pregnant or returning to work from maternity leave. As a part of my professional work based around "The Impact of Abuse in Fashion Systems", I started to wonder how many of these women work in the fashion industry and how many miscarriages, abortions and child-free women could this dynamic have generated? Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) study can't really capture the loss and grief that this discrimination may have generated in women and families. Even more difficult to grasp understand is the real impact of this dynamic in employees, teams, brands, organisations and businesses. Who pays the invisible price for this discrimination - the child, the mother, the boss, the team, the department, the organisation, the brand, the business or the client?

By Radhika Sanghani. Out of 3,200 women surveyed by the EHRC , 11 per cent reported having been dismissed, made compulsorily redundant where others in their workplace were not, or treated so poorly that they felt they had to leave their jobs.

The EHRC said that if this was replicated across the population as a whole, it could mean approximately 54,000 women lose their jobs each year after having children.

One in five new mums said they had experienced harassment or negative comments from their colleagues or boss when they were pregnant or returning from maternity leave.

Moreover, a third did not feel their employer supported them willingly during their pregnancy, or when they returned to work.

The study, carried out alongside the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, also found nine per cent of women were treated worse by their employer when they returned from maternity leave than before their pregnancy.

• Maternity leave discrimination: A working mother's story of losing her job – and how she got over it

Around seven per cent said they felt pressured to hand in their notice, while 10 per cent felt discouraged by their employer from attending antenatal appointments.

For young mothers aged under 25, the discrimination was worse, with around six per cent dismissed, compared to an average of one per cent.

Caroline Waters, deputy chair of the EHRC, said: “This research reveals the worrying levels of discrimination and disadvantage at work that women still face today. Not only is discrimination unlawful, but it is also bad for business.”

Even though the study found high rates of discrimination towards pregnant women, 84 per cent of employers said they believed supporting those women was in the best interests of their organisations.

Around 80 per cent agreed that pregnant women and those returning from maternity leave were just as committed to their work as their colleagues, while two thirds said they didn’t think pregnancy put an unreasonable cost burden on the workplace.

Dianah Worman, diversity adviser for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the professional body for HR, said: “The findings of this important research show how employers are losing female talent by default.

“It’s a wake-up call about checking against weak employment practices that cause such negative experiences for mums who want to work.

“It's time for employers to do some housekeeping in their organisations to make sure hidden problems and difficulties are surfaced and dealt with quickly to ensure they have both diverse and inclusive working environments.

“This will allow them to benefit from the added value women can contribute. At a time when the war for talent is hotting up, action is essential. It’s nonsense for talent to be wasted and discrimination in pregnancy and maternity, whether intended or not, is an urgent area to be addressed.”

The study was the largest of its kind, with a total of more than 6,000 mums and employers surveyed across the UK.

It comes as the EHRC launches a #worksforme awareness initiative to reduce pregnancy and maternity and discrimination by providing practical advice for mothers and employers.