UK bosses believe women should say at interview if they are pregnant – report

Overt discrimination in recruitment shockingly common, says equality commission

Most UK employers believe a woman should have to disclose if she is pregnant during a recruitment process, according to “depressing” statistics from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The EHRC warned that many businesses were “decades behind the law” after a YouGov survey of 1,106 senior decision-makers revealed that a third of those working for private companies thought it was reasonable to ask a woman about her plans to have children in the future during the recruitment process, 59% said she should have to disclose if she is pregnant and almost half (46%) said it was also reasonable to ask a woman if she had small children.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, the chief executive of the EHRC, said the findings were “depressing” and accused many British companies of “living in the dark ages”.

“We should all know very well that it is against the law not to appoint a woman because she is pregnant or might become pregnant. Yet we also know women routinely get asked questions around family planning in interviews,” she said. “It’s clear that many employers need more support to better understand the basics of discrimination law and the rights of pregnant women and new mothers.”

The survey also found that 44% of employers believed women should work for an organisation for at least a year before deciding to have children, while the same number said women who had more than one pregnancy while in the same job could be a “burden to their team”.

The research chimes with the hundreds of examples of discrimination recorded by the website Pregnant then Screwed. One 32-year-old media worker was told in an interview “that they really liked me but I had one child already and soon I would probably want another so they would have to be careful how much they invested in me”.

A 29-year-old senior human resources executive said she was told in her interview that the company “didn’t want to have someone that leaves the office at 6pm because of some nursery run. We need someone who is committed.”

Stories of overt discrimination in the recruitment process were shockingly common, said Joeli Brearly, the founder of Pregnant then Screwed. “The perception that mothers fall behind, are less committed or ambitious is absurd. Women are very capable of using both their brains and their uterus simultaneously,” she said.

“The fact is that companies with more women in senior positions are more prosperous and profitable, therefore it is in the interest of employers to eliminate conscious and unconscious bias towards pregnant women and new mums.’

According to the EHRC survey, 40% of employers claim to have seen at least one pregnant woman in their workplace “take advantage” of their pregnancy, and about a third believe new mothers in work are “generally less interested in career progression” compared with other employees. Four in 10 employers agree that pregnancy in the workplace puts “an unnecessary cost burden” on the workplace.

Half said there is sometimes resentment among employees towards women who are pregnant or on maternity leave, while a third do not think it is easy to protect expectant or new mothers from discrimination in the workplace.

The EHRC has launched Working Forward, a campaign to improve workplaces for pregnant women and new parents and urged companies to sign up for a pledge to treat them fairly.

Carole Easton, the chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust, said the research supported findings from the charity that revealed that one in seven employers would be reluctant to hire a woman they thought would go on to have children and 39% of young mums had been illegally asked about how being a mother would affect their ability to work.

“Today’s EHRC findings show many employers, given half a chance, would run roughshod over women’s rights,” she said. “It’s no wonder women are held back in the workplace when people have such outdated, discriminatory views [...] It’s not just employers’ attitudes that need to change; society as a whole should support men to take an equal role in childcare. Until that happens, women will continue to face discrimination at work.”

’I am still so angry about what happened’

Anna (not her real name) described her “very bad” experience while working for a local authority. She was on a temporary contract and believed she was in line for advancement, including a permanent contract. “I waited until I was 20 weeks to tell my employer as I didn’t want my pregnancy to count against me,” she wrote on the Pregnant then Screwed website. “My male boss was perfectly nice when I told him, but seemed to think I would want to give up work once I had a baby. I was sidelined from projects and put on light duties.”

When the job she was already doing came up as a permanent contract she applied for the role. “I was patronisingly told my priorities would change and that once I had my baby I wouldn’t want the job,” she said. She was interviewed but didn’t get the role. “He [...] said he discussed the interview with his wife (she doesn’t have anything to do with the local authority) and they had agreed my priorities would change,” she said.

Without work and seven-and-a-half-months pregnant, she had two interviews for different jobs, but did not get hired. After having her baby she got another job with another local authority who said she was an “outstanding candidate”. “They didn’t know I had a two-month-old,” she said. “I am still so angry about what happened and wouldn’t wish anyone else to go through what I went through.”


Alexandra Topping

The GuardianTramp

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