Why are women still getting ‘pregnant then screwed’?

My thoughts on how to reduce maternity discrimination.

Another week has gone by and more reports are being published showing how working women are being treated like crap when they are pregnant or on maternity leave, only to become victim to a pay gap with their male colleagues once they return to work.

This really annoys me. Particularly women who are sacked, made redundant, demoted etc just because they have pushed out or are due to push out a baby. This is illegal and needs to stop.

Yes, I understand that for some organisations (particularly small businesses), the cost of maternity pay could have an impact, especially if they need to pay for additional cover. BUT that doesn’t mean we make it ok for any business not to employ women of childbearing age, or treat them like rubbish. Nor does it mean we should just accept there isn’t a place for us in the workplace after we’ve given birth aka comtributing to the future of the human race. 

What it means is that we clearly need a more equal view in our approach to parental leave and responsibilities. Society’s mentality towards leave and parenting is outdated, still in a time where women didn’t have professional roles and fathers weren’t as hands on. But times have changed. Women are pursuing or already in senior, demanding careers (God forbid) and many fathers actually spend time with their children (shock horror!). But the ‘system’ doesn’t acknowledge this.

Let me explain. At the moment our maternity system is very much that, maternal. Focussed on solely the mother. She is allowed to take time off for medical appointments, without question. She gets paid to take time off caring for a newborn. If a father wants to take significant time off, he might get funny looks from an employer and he’ll have to accept a drop in pay. Not the best move at a time when finances are already be impacted by nappies and wipes (and coffee and cake for mum lol). So it makes sense for mother to take more time off (up to a year), leaving her with a gap in her career, which according to statistics will impact her financially for life,  whilst dad continues to work, progressing his career to bring home the proverbial bacon.

And in most cases, this then continues once she has returned to work as she is the primary care giver. She takes the pay cut to work part time, leaves the office early when a child is sick etc etc. And employers kind of expect it. Some embrace it – ‘that’s her being a mum’ they accept. Some use it as an excuse to treat women differently which is down right wrong. Either way, all employers need to respect the fact that fathers are parents too! Make it acceptable, in fact the norm, for a dad to leave the office at 430 to do the nursery pick up or ask if they can do a conference call from home to nurse a sick child.

Now, imagine if both parents received the same pay for leave? They could split the leave, reducing the ‘time out’ of work for either parent, but ensuring they bring in some kind of income, meaning the onus isn’t on any one parent. I know that the right to shared has been introduced in the UK, but statistics show that take up has been very low. But we shouldn’t give up on it. If we got to a stage where this was the norm, employers wouldn’t or couldn’t discriminate against workers just for being parents. They wouldn’t have many people left in their books!

If you haven’t heard of the wonderful Joeli Brearley, check out her amazing campaign, Pregnant then Screwed. It really is an eye opener into the number of working mothers being discriminated against. But she is actually helping women to challenge their employers and supporting them in the process. Positive action! Thankfully I haven’t had such experiences, but it really is sad that in the 21st century, this is such an issue. What’s more sad is that it’s getting worse. 

But I think it fans, and will get better. It will take time. It will take a lot of effort. It will take mothers to stand up against discrimination to hold bad employers to account. It will take fathers to use their right for shared leave and make it known to their employers that they actually want to parent! It will take the government to make discrimination tribunals cheaper and easier. And it will take the rest of us to provide support for our friends and family in these situations.

Then maybe less of us will be screwed.