The survey revealed that:
- 36% of private sector employers agree that it is reasonable to ask women about their plans to have children in the future during recruitment;
- 59% agree that a woman should have to disclose whether she is pregnant during the recruitment process;
- 46% of employers agree that it is reasonable to ask women if they have young children during the recruitment process;
- 44% agreed that women should work for an employer for at least a year before deciding to have children;
- 40% claimed that at least one pregnant woman in their workplace had 'take[n] advantage' of their pregnancy;
- Around 33% believe that women who become pregnant, and new mothers, are 'generally less interested in career progression' when compared to other employees in their company; and
- 41% agree that pregnancy in the workplace puts an 'unnecessary cost burden' on the workplace.
- To put it mildly, the results of this poll may seem somewhat surprising in today's society.
- Discrimination on the grounds of sex and pregnancy & maternity are not new concepts. Both were introduced by the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Yet some employers still struggle to get to grips with these issues.
While these statistics just reflect attitudes, they could easily translate to discriminatory actions. If an employer refuses to hire a young, female interviewee because they think that she will have children within a couple of years, that would be discrimination on the grounds of sex. If an employee was passed over for promotion simply on the basis that she was pregnant at the time, that would be discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy. While it is unlikely that any employer will admit to making such a decision, if these statistics are anything to go by this could happen more often than we think.
Part of the negative attitude toward these concepts may be attributed to fear - employers are afraid of the "consequences" for their business. The EHRC poll also highlighted that employers are struggling to provide pregnant women and new mothers with the support that they need. Knowing the rights of pregnant employees, and those on maternity, can help employers plan the best way to make sure they support their employees and do not inadvertently breach those rights. From a more practical perspective, a positive approach to pregnancy and maternity can help employers retain new and expectant mothers, who may be some of their most talented people.
After all, being stuck in the dark ages can surely only be a bad place for everyone.