As I write, it’s been in the news as recently as this week that maternity discrimination is a huge problem in Britain. Sadly, pregnancy discrimination appears to be equally rife. In the year 2015, when legislation has been implemented to prevent either from occurring, this is not only ridiculous and unpalatable – it’s also illegal.

 

Maternity and Pregnancy Discrimination are Unacceptable

And yet it’s also widely tolerated. The insidious issue is played out across the country on a daily basis, when mostly small and medium-sized firms who tend  not to have HR departments not only ignore the LAW, but also get away with doing so. The details of individual cases may vary, but the result is the same: women who do no worse than choose to continue our species are left out in the cold by their employers.

In many circumstances, those guilty of direct – but implicit – discriminatory practices and behaviours appear to be entirely fearless. And is it any wonder when the law is technically on their side? The spirit of the law is that these situations should not be occurring, but the reality is that they do, because they can’t be proven.

I’m incredulous that there are both men and women in our developed country who think nothing of applying immense pressure on pregnant women, and in doing so cause them great stress. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely appreciate that pregnancy is not a disease and should not be treated as such (unless of course there is an associated illness). But whether the pregnancy is progressing with or without complications, when is it ever acceptable to cause these women to miss important appointments/refuse to pay them properly/bully or harass them (the list goes on)?

In the UK, when a company feels like it, apparently.

It is a serious concern because by allowing this to go on in spite of legislation to prevent it, society passively condones it.

 

The Ideal

Most people are almost reverential in their regard for pregnant women – and that’s as it should be. Whilst there’s no requirement for special allowances in terms of promotion either legally or morally (of course!), there’s undeniably a need for special consideration of physical needs – and up to a point emotional needs too. These women should be supported; they should never be persecuted.

So used am I to observing and receiving chivalry from The Generic Gentleman in his various guises – my husband/father/brothers/the guy in the shop/stranger on the bus/the postman – that I genuinely struggle to comprehend any other attitude in men. Yet they exist; indeed, they’re functioning people in possession of all their faculties; and there are many of them.

While they may well be financially secure, I will never consider them to be successful until they appreciate and embrace the basic concept of respecting and valuing pregnant women – and absolutely do not take advantage of or intimidate them.

These men have mothers, wives, daughters; I am not speaking in generic terms – I know some of these men have families. And thus it confounds me that they are able to pass over women for promotion/bonuses/contribution in meetings, simply on the basis of their pregnancy/maternity status. And not only that, but sadly in some circumstances actively seek to dismiss/strongly encourage resignation too. In Britain; in 2015. Culturally in terms of child-bearing, it seems we’re going backwards, not forwards. This does not make Britain ‘Great’ – it makes Britain shameful.

I would like to take this opportunity to point out to those ‘encouraging’ stay at home mothers back into work: fix this discriminatory problem and I would wager it would go a long way towards fixing your problem too.

 

Case in Point

Take my friend; we’ll call her Sally. Sally worked hard at her new company for a year before falling pregnant with her first child. Not only did her manager second guess the pregnancy on the basis of two medical appointments early on in the first trimester, he then told the MD of his suspicions – before making an unsolicited promise to Sally that he would keep the information to himself.

Subsequently, Sally was reprimanded for under-performing in a sales capacity. When she stood firm in her assertion that she was not a salesperson which she had made clear at her initial interview, she was asked to move her desk into what was essentially an unventilated store cupboard. This was in the height of summer, by which time Sally was heavily pregnant. She took advice from ACAS and put in a request to remain at her current desk. When the MD called her into his office to discuss the matter, she was verbally abused and bawled at for her excessive demands; lack of effort; and underperformance. The MD threatened to cut her pay by a third and told her explicitly that she was ‘not earning her keep’.

When accusations were made of customer complaints about her attitude, Sally was utterly bemused and perplexed. The MD threatened to bring her manager in to explain the allegations, clearly anticipating Sally would concede her wrongdoings; however, she encouraged the MD. Her manager was unable to defend the claims he had made against her and the MD cooled down. Alas, this was temporary…

Not only did Sally encounter intimidating aggression from her MD, she also faced fabrications from her manager who was trying to save his own neck. Unfortunately, given the extreme nature of the meeting, Sally was left with no alternative but to begin her maternity leave with immediate effect.

Given the degree of hostility levied towards her, Sally chose to raise a grievance. And this is where legislation falls down: the company had no impartial authority to oversee the procedure. Essentially, Sally raised a grievance against her MD, and her MD was in the smug position of handling her complaint; which he naturally rejected. Even if she had chosen to pursue her case at tribunal (which would have cost her), she had a very slim chance of winning – because for fear of losing their jobs too, other staff  lied in their ‘evidence’. In the meantime, Sally was worrying about an emergency induction and a poorly, premature baby.

Which inevitably meant family became a priority, while justice became a luxury that could not be justified in any capacity.

Update: I’m Sally.

When I wrote this it was still very raw and I had concerns about the legal implications of being totally frank. As things stand today, I don’t. I was treated appallingly and I’m not ashamed to be open about that. 

Today, I attribute my daughter’s difficulties at birth to the immense stress I was placed under at work: there was no obvious cause and high levels of stress can lead to failure to thrive

Credit where it’s due, I also have that horrendous time of my life to thank for this blog, which I’d never have started if I’d had a job to return to! 

 

So What Can You Do if You Find Yourself in This Situation?

Sadly, there is very little to be done as things stand. Businesses know their legal obligations, and provided they remain inside of the law – or at least ensure there is no possible way to prove otherwise – they’re safe. So, my best piece of advice?

Should you be planning to have a child in the near future, ensure the company you work for is pro family. And if they’re not? Find one that is. I wish I could say different but with current employment laws in force, you will not win this war.

Resonate? Please share this post to promote the cause and garner support for working families. I’d love to hear your stories too, please comment below and I’ll get back to you.

An award-nominated blogger and author, Kate is an experienced breastfeeding advocate, and expert baby sleep chaser. Her writing has appeared on Mothercare, Huff Post, and BritMums.

12 Comments

  1. Katy - Hot Pink Wellingtons Reply

    I was lucky to have a very supportive employer during my pregnancy (which was lucky as I suffered from severe morning sickness for most of my pregnancy). Ironically I found it tended to be women who were more unsympathetic – often women who had obviously had easier pregnancies and would offer advice on morning sickness – ‘tried eating ginger?’

    • Kate Reply

      That’s lovely, lucky you. I’m really not surprised about the women. I don’t get it though. Very sad. X

  2. It is incredible that in such an allegedly “forward thinking’ we are still so backward thinking in this respect isn’t it? As far as I can see…the feminist movement still has much to achieve….thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub with this thought provoking post lovely x

  3. Absolutely f*cking f*cker f*ck f*ck I HATE Sally’s MD and if I had known Sally at the time she was undergoing this treatment, I would have had some wise words to give her because I have a good friend, let’s call her Miranda, who underwent discrimination during one of her pregnancies too.

    I have never ever sworn in a comment before and rarely do in ‘real life’ but I am absolutely f*cking livid at this.

    I hope Sally was happy with the outcome she got in the end as the health of her baby and her would naturally have been the most important factor. Another reason f*cking f*ckers like that MD think they have their pregnant employees over a barrel. Well they do NOT.

    Grr. I’m mad as a hatter.

    Anyway MD, if you’re reading this, karma is coming for you, you absolute f*ckface f*cker. And let me tell you, she’s a bitch. Hmph. x x

    • Kate Reply

      Sadly Mim, he truly did have me over a barrel, and he knew it. I’m not in contact with anyone from there now, naturally, which is also a shame.

      BUT…

      I’d never have started blogging without that, so you know. Thanks pal!

      Sorry to hear of your troubles too, Sweetie. Some people are pigs. It boggles my brain that they can have mothers, wives, daughters and still behave this way. It says more about then than us. (But I’d love for the old goat to know that I was contacted by itv and nearly appeared on Tonight about the way he treated me!)

      Thanks for your support xxx

  4. From Day Dot Reply

    It’s a terrifying thought, as it’s not always so easy to find another job in the right location or industry or at the right pay, which leaves you feeling trapped as you can’t take this next big step in your life because the work situation is holding you back.

    I really feel for Sally, no-one should have to go through that. And sadly it’s not always men who have this attitude, I work with numerous career-driven women who are later in life and have no family, just work, and their attitude towards pregnant colleagues can be just as upsetting.

    Great post on a tough subject.

    • Kate Tunstall Reply

      Don’t feel too badly for a Sally – I found my confidence and started blogging. Which is much more fun and just for me! It was a dreadful time, of course, but people go through worse.

      Without all of that trouble, I’d have felt obligated to return to a dead-end job. Because of the situation hubby wouldn’t hear of it, and I’m so much happier doing what I’m doing. I’m thankful that the circumstances forced me to leave.

      Thanks for your comment.

  5. ProWorkingMom Reply

    Went through something similar, even with a union contract in place that I’d paid years of dues to be protected by. Did I mention the position was a support staff one working for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?!? So much for the liberals and unions protecting “one of their own”. Took it to a Grievance 2… and the union rep did not open her mouth at my hearing. I resigned after 12-plus years working there… and was never happier thanks to not having to deal with a micro-manager. One great thing available to women now is the social media platform, something that businesses and managers need to grasp the importance of. Because, yes, we mere women are usually the ones making the decisions about day-to-day purchases and who our family will do business with. While a large company may not be worried about what a few parents are saying in the pickup line at school, they need to be concerned when parents provide negative reviews or posts regarding that company’s conduct towards their employees. I for one wouldn’t support a company who treated a pregnant woman in the manner Sally was treated. Would anyone?

    • Kate Tunstall Reply

      I’m sorry to hear you experienced similar. I’m appalled and bitterly disappointed that this is allowed to go on, but with great regret I’ve accepted that for the time being at least – we won’t win. And believe me – I’m a fighter.

      Sadly, after my experience, I understand the true meaning of ‘life’s not fair’: justice does not always prevail.

      That’s why I no longer work in an office and am carving out a career on my own terms. Because I also won’t support companies who treat their staff that way, and I know it’s depressingly prevalent.

  6. It’s nothing short of ridiculous that some employers are so blatantly blind when it comes to the incredible female talent and experience that they are in danger of losing through pregnancy and maternity discrimination. There are some fabulous employers out there who have fabulous working practices, sadly it’s not everybody. We need to share more of these stories.

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