The pay gap in practice

Official findings that 54,000 new mothers may be forced out of work in Britain every year is a shocking reminder of how the labour market continues to fail women.

In a survey of 3,200 women by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, eleven per cent reported having been dismissed, made compulsorily redundant where others in their workplace were not, or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their jobs.  If replicated across the population as a whole, this could mean as many as 54,000 women losing their jobs each year.

The research also found around one in five new mothers experienced harassment or negative comments at work when pregnant or returning from maternity leave.

Conversely it also shows that many employers across a range of industries say they are firm supporters of female staff during and after their pregnancies and find it easy to comply with the law.

The motherhood penalty, where mothers’ career progression is curtailed, is a key cause of the gender pay gap where women as a group earn on average 19.1 per cent less than men.

“This is where the pay gap starts in practice,” says Belinda Phipps, Chair of the Fawcett Society. “Not only is it preventing women achieving their potential, it means short-sighted businesses are missing out on a wealth of female talent.

“Whilst many employers are clearly trying to do the right thing and many women feel supported during their pregnancy, too many companies are getting away with the kind of behaviour that should have died out decades ago.

“The findings suggest that pregnant women and new mums can have a tough time at work. Women who experience discrimination at this time are less likely to return to work after the birth, resulting in a huge loss of skills from the UK workforce.”

The survey backs up Fawcett research  showing that one in ten women on low pay who return from maternity leave are assigned to a more junior role and that one in four felt that their opportunities for promotion were now worse.

The Fawcett Society believes there is lot that can be done with ease and relatively little cost to tackle maternity and pregnancy discrimination head on. We call on the government to:

  • Launch a public information campaign to improve the awareness of employers and employees about maternity discrimination and employees’ rights
  • Double the amount of time a woman has to take her claim to an employment tribunal. When expecting a new baby, three months is not enough time for time at this pivotal time in women’s lives
  • Scrap the £1,200 tribunal fees which price women out of justice and ensure that tribunal awards are honoured
  • Invest in advice for pregnant women, new mums and employers

More on maternity rights


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