One in eight (12%) employers would be reluctant to hire a woman who could become pregnant and one in seven (14%) takes this, and whether she has children, into account when awarding promotions, a survey has found.
The results suggested that some employers are potentially breaking the law when making decisions about recruitment or career progression, said charity the Young Women’s Trust.
Pregnancy and maternity
The YouGov poll of 802 HR decision makers found males (14%) were marginally more likely than females (10%) to let the prospect of a candidate or employee having children affect their judgment. However, attitudes appeared to be changing as fewer male HR decision makers expressed this reluctance than in previous surveys (16% in 2018 and 18% in 2017).
HR professionals were also less likely than in previous years to consider whether pregnancy was a possibility when making career progression decisions (22% in 2018 and 25% in 2017).
“It is encouraging that fewer bosses than previously say they would be reluctant to employ women who may go on to have children. However, there can be no room for complacency as ‘dinosaur bosses’ are still found in many workplaces, unfairly overlooking women when it comes to recruitment and promotion and breaking the law in the process,” said Young Women’s Trust’s director of communications and campaigns Joe Levenson.
Jamie Mackenzie, director at employee engagement firm Sodexo Engage, said it was a common and “frustrating” misconception that staff are less engaged when they have children.
“This false belief leads to some employers thinking that helping their employees juggle childcare and their career is a waste of effort. But it just isn’t true – companies that introduce family-friendly measures are more likely to report reductions in staff turnover, greater employee satisfaction and less absenteeism.”
He said that it does not make financial sense for organisations to discriminate against women because they make up around 47% of the workforce.
“If businesses really want to get ahead, attract the best talent, and unlock new ways of thinking, they should seriously consider ways to eliminate these biases, not just in the recruitment process, but in every part of the business,” he added.
Beth Hale, a partner at law firm CM Murray said it was unsurprising to see that this kind of discrimination still exists.
“Discrimination at the recruitment stage is always hard to prove as employers are generally able to find another, non-discriminatory, reason for not giving the job to a woman who they fear may get pregnant,” she said.
“The issue is exacerbated by the low take up of benefits such as shared parental leave and demonstrates that, in spite of positive measures such as mandatory gender pay gap reporting, we still have a long way to go to achieve genuine equality in the workplace.”
The government has said legal protections for pregnant women and new mothers will be extended to six months after they return to work, but no timescale for the legislation’s introduction has yet been provided.