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Discrimination forces pregnant women and new mothers out of their jobs

Research suggests that up to 54,000 pregnant women and new mothers are being forced out of their jobs in the UK each year as a consequence of discrimination.

The claim is based on a survey of 3,254 mothers with a child under two years old and 3,034 workplaces by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in partnership with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. The survey found that 11% of the women interviewed said they had been dismissed, made compulsorily redundant or "treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their jobs" when pregnant or returning to work after giving birth. If representative of the UK as a whole, says the EHRC, as many as 54,000 women are being forced out of their jobs each year.

The research also found that, although many employers claim to be fully supportive of female employees during and after their pregnancies and find it easy to comply with relevant law, about a fifth of new mothers experienced harassment or negative comments from their colleagues, employer or manager. And one tenth were discouraged by their employer from attending antenatal appointments, with 9% treated worse on their return to work than they were before their pregnancy. About 7% were even put under pressure to hand in their notice.

When mothers were allowed to work flexibly, about half of them reported negative results, such as being offered fewer opportunities and believing their opinions were less valued. Younger mums received the worst treatment, with 6% being dismissed, compared with 1% for all age groups.

More optimistically, the survey found that 84% of employers believe that supporting pregnant workers and those on maternity leave benefits their businesses, while 80% agree that pregnant women and those returning from maternity leave are just as committed as others. Two thirds of employers don't believe that pregnancy brings an unreasonable cost burden, while 66% of mothers felt their employer supported them willingly during pregnancy and when they returned to work.

Caroline Waters, EHRC Deputy Chair, said: 

"This research reveals the worrying levels of discrimination and disadvantage at work that women still face. Not only is discrimination unlawful, but it's also bad for business."

Dianah Worman, Diversity Adviser for the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, 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 make sure hidden problems are 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."

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