The transition to motherhood is tumultuous. Our emotions fluctuate, our bodies mutate, we learn how to survive on 37 minutes sleep a night and we are viewed differently by everyone we know. In the main we accept these changes – we feel different and have a new position in society, so inevitably people will change the way they behave in our company.
However, for some women, this shift in the way they are perceived can be so serious it crushes their confidence and eradicates their career.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission recently published statistics from the most thorough investigation into pregnancy and maternity discrimination ever undertaken in the UK. It concluded that 54,000 women a year lose their jobs from the point of pregnancy, three out of four working mothers experience discrimination and half of all mothers say that pregnancy and maternity has had a negative impact on their career.
Not only is this a massive kick in the teeth for equality, but it shows attitudes towards pregnant women and mothers have deteriorated significantly – 10 years ago these figures were half of what they are today.
Pregnant Then Screwed, a project and campaign lead by a group of impassioned volunteers, has long been aware of how serious this problem is. Our website documents more than 500 stories from mothers who have experienced workplace discrimination. These demonstrate the impact this kind of behaviour has on those subjected to it.
Improving attitudes will require a societal shift. Employers need to understand mothers are a valuable business asset and we need to address the archaic notion that child rearing is women’s work.
Maternity leave is not a holiday. Parenting is about investing in others. Teaching a new human to grow and develop into the best possible person is a selfless act. If parents were not prepared to do this for their children, or if we were not afforded the time and resources to do this effectively, society would fall apart.
Parental leave develops skills. Child rearing is about love, passion, anguish and heartache. Parents are nurturers, community builders, multi taskers, communicators. We understand the need to fail to achieve success. Are these not the traits of effective managers?
At Pregnant Then Screwed, we strongly support legislation that encourages extended paternity leave. With Shared Parental Leave now in place, more fathers are able to take time out to care for their children and many are keen to maximise this new opportunity. As the legislation beds in, it is likely we will see more men exercising their right to extended paternity leave. If we lived in a society where careers and child rearing were no longer gender specific, then employing men would be considered just as much of a ‘risk’ as employing women. If we had equality inside the home, then we would be much more likely to see equality outside of the home.
There is research to suggest this would also have a positive effect on the economy. Statistics published in the government’s recent gender pay gap report state that if men and women’s productivity and employment were equal, it could be worth £600 billion to the exchequer.
Reducing discrimination and making employment work for mothers is good for society, good for productivity, good for companies and good for families.
Joelli Brearley runs Pregnant Then Screwed (pregnantthenscrewed.com)