Last Updated on 15.2.23 by Shelley Bower
Many highflying professional woman who choose to interrupt their careers to have a baby are being exploited by employers because they don`t know their maternity rights.
Lawyer Danielle Ayres, herself a mother of two young children, said some employers were taking advantage of this ignorance in order to discriminate against pregnant women and new mums – even though to do so is illegal.
“The problem is that women – even high flying career women who have worked in a professional environment – don`t know their rights,” said Danielle, an employment lawyer for North West firm Gorvins Solicitors, and who runs a legal advisory clinic for pregnant women and new mothers.
“Unfortunately women are too scared to speak out for fear of being branded a troublemaker, or if they still work for the company they are worried about losing their jobs, particularly now that they are responsible for a child.”
“There is stigma from employers when career-driven women get pregnant. They think they won’t come back, they think they won’t be as focused when they want to push their businesses forward. So some then get rid of them.”
She also pointed out that mums only have three months to take a case of discrimination to an employment tribunal. “This tends to be the time when women are weak, exhausted and knee-deep in nappies. “It just isn’t a priority and then it all gets brushed under the carpet.”
Her cases include one woman who, after informing her boss she was pregnant, was told,: “I hope you aren’t going to be taking the full 12 months off.”
Another returned to work to find that a reorganisation had taken place while she had been on maternity leave and that she had no desk or job.
The charity Maternity Action now estimates that as many as 60,000 women a year are forced out of their jobs due to pregnancy.
And this doesn’t include the women who are demoted, harassed, aren’t put forward for promotion, or those that are self-employed.
In a few months’ time the Equality and Human Rights Commission will publish results of a study which campaigners say will show a big rise in the numbers of women suffering discrimination because they are pregnant or taking maternity leave.
The Pregnant then Screwed campaign was recently launched as a place where women who had been discriminated against whilst pregnant or after returning to work could share their stories.
Founder Joeli Brearley said: “The problem is women are too scared to speak out for fear of being branded a troublemaker, or if they still work for the company they are worried about losing their jobs, particularly now that they are responsible for a child.”
In the UK there are over 750,000 live births a year, according to the Office of National Statistics, to women who are on average 30 years old. For many women this is several years into a serious career.
“Some employers manage pregnancies and maternity leave to the letter and they really know how to support working mums. But others – either by fault or design – get it completely wrong,” added. Danielle.
The issue was discussed with Danielle on BBC TV’s Victoria Derbyshire Show this morning and drew a huge reaction:
Responding on Facebook one woman said she had been dismissed while pregnant and thought she had been unfairly treated. “I researched the ins and outs of it and I could have pursued it further, but felt so stressed I decided against further action because I was pregnant.
Adds Danielle: “We need to raise awareness amongst women that they are entitled to full maternity rights – so that they can be protected when they decide to have a baby.” She runs free advice clinics every six weeks to combat this issue.