Making pregnancy and productivity work

I’m one of the lucky ones. Having two children while juggling a demanding
full-time job and career was a positive experience.

But for many other women, it has been a guilt-ridden, unhappy and sometimes
devastating period of their lives. The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)
receives more complaints about pregnancy and maternity than any other type of
sex discrimination issue, even beating equal pay and sexual harassment.

This is hardly surprising given the plethora of legislation in this area and
much wider public awareness of rights in the workplace. So the enquiry into
pregnancy discrimination, aptly announced in ‘work-life balance week’, is long
overdue, and must be welcomed.

Although there is a more regulated social framework for women to balance
family and work duties, many of these measures have yet to take practical
effect.

Unfair treatment of working pregnant women is widespread across all
occupations and sectors. And it isn’t just the small employers who are guilty
of victimisation. Problems encountered include dismissal, lack of promotion,
change of salary terms, unfounded criticism, downgraded appraisals, non-payment
of bonuses and disciplinary action for performance. Recent research among 1,200
adults reveals 21 per cent know someone who suffered work difficulties because
of their pregnancy.

Many problems originate in poor practice at line manager level, and this
review is likely to reinforce the need for improvements in people management
skills.

Women make up a growing percentage of the workforce and represent a talented
and versatile resource. But working mums are not as motivated and engaged as
they could be as some feel poorly treated. Evidence shows that nearly eight in
10 working mums would quit their full-time jobs tomorrow if given the chance.
This says a good deal about the lethargy of employers in responding flexibly to
their needs.

Individuals that have suffered discrimination and employers will be heavily
involved in the EOC’s 18-month investigation. Employers’ knowledge of their
legal responsibilities will be assessed and examples of good practice
identified.

If you work in an organisation that has acted in a discriminatory way
towards pregnant women, you could be asked to attend an interview with the EOC
to explore the circumstances and outcome. Whatever your experiences, this is an
opportunity to influence the review and help wipe out injustices for working
women.

By Jane King

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