Pregnancy doesn't have to be a problem for Employers
What is the one thing you have in common with every single person you work with, every customer or potential client you come into contact with, every supplier you deal with, and every competitor in your market place? In fact, with every other person on this planet?
The answer? We are all here because at some point, someone got pregnant, and then had a baby.
A recent report found that pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace costs British companies nearly £280m per year through having to recruit and train people to replace women forced out of their jobs by discrimination.
To know that this figure is probably an understatement, as the study did not look at the costs of reputational risk, loss of talented employees, employment tribunals and long term productivity impacts, should make every employer sit up and pay attention.
And women who stay in their jobs are estimated to lose up to £34m in total over the following year because of pregnancy discrimination, such as failed promotions, reduced salaries, demotions and receiving a lower than expected pay rise or bonus because they were pregnant or took maternity leave.
Some of the headline statistics are truly depressing.
Three in four mothers said they had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave, and/or on return from maternity leave.
One in nine mothers felt forced to leave their job – most of those because they were treated so poorly by their employer
One in five mothers experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer/colleagues.
Around half of mothers who had their flexible working request approved said they felt it resulted in negative consequences.
And finally, my own personal favourite:
One in ten mothers were discouraged from attending antenatal appointments.
Seriously? Just how does that fit with an employer’s duty of care for their employees, or taking reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of employees in the workplace? It's clear from the research that discrimination against pregnant women and those on maternity leave is actually getting worse. We have a real issue in Britain's workplaces with perceptions about pregnancy and motherhood, and what is acceptable behaviour towards women during this time.
Pregnancy and maternity leave do not have to cause problems at work. Managed well, and with sensible expectations on both sides, they can be a positive experience for employers and employees. So next time someone tells you they are pregnant, here are four things you should do straight away (after congratulating the expectant mother of course!)
1. Plan ahead - yes, it really is going to happen, you normally have lots of notice, and plenty of time to organise maternity cover but you need to get on with advertising, recruiting and handing over, not wait until maternity leave starts.
2. Don’t make assumptions – more and more new mothers are the main earners in their families. So don’t assume every new mother wants part time hours, or has lost their career ambitions, or will take time off any time their child is ill. Or that they won’t travel, stay away overnight, or work long hours when necessary. For many, work is a vitally important part of their lives, and their mental and financial health, and that doesn’t necessarily change when they have a baby.
3. Consider other options – what if your employee asks to return to work with different hours or working patterns? What patterns could you accommodate? What opportunities could this give you for streamlining or improving your working practices? By thinking through the options in advance, you can have constructive conversations with employees about what you can accommodate, and what you genuinely cannot. Rather than an automatic “no”.
4. Communicate regularly with the employee – childbirth or adoption is a life-changing experience, and it is impossible for most expectant mothers to predict how they will feel about work after a baby arrives. So it is sensible, and perfectly understandable for a woman to want to keep her options open for as long as possible. New mothers will be more likely to share their thinking with you if they have a good working relationship and regular opportunities to communicate with you. So don’t forget them while they are away from the office – a monthly phone call or e-mail to let them know you are thinking about them will make a return to work much easier to manage.
Fundamentally, it all boils down to this question. If it were your wife, girlfriend, sister, mother, cousin or friend who was pregnant, how would you want them to be treated?
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