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'My manager was livid I was pregnant': Most mothers still face discrimination when pregnant at work

The bullying, harassment and aggression experienced by pregnant women at work leads to one in five leaving their job

One pregnant woman was told: “it would be easier for your future career if you just brought a coat hanger". Image: Ciphr / Flickr

More than half of all mothers have faced some form of discrimination when pregnant at work, on maternity leave, or when they returned to their job, according to new research from Pregnant Then Screwed.

This discrimination leads to one in five mothers deciding to quit their job after a negative experience. One in ten said they were bullied or harassed when pregnant or returning to work after their pregnancy. 

Perhaps most shockingly, one in 61 of the pregnant women surveyed by Women In Data said their boss suggested they terminate their pregnancy when they shared the news with them. 

Amanda* told the Big Issue: “It had taken me 7 years to get pregnant, my manager told me he was livid I was pregnant, as I couldn’t front a training programme in six months following a merger. I wish I’d raised an HR grievance.”

Another woman, Connie*, was told: “It would be easier for your future career if you just brought a coat hanger”, after informing her boss she was eight weeks pregnant. Three of her colleagues said that she should have an abortion to avoid ruining her career.

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“We know that women are treated differently from the point they get pregnant,” said Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant the Screwed.

“This bias [affects] women’s earnings and career potential. There is absolutely no excuse for bosses, who hold the power, to tell their employee to abort a pregnancy. It is sex discrimination and it is inhumane,” she continued. 

The survey of more than 3,500 women also revealed that two-thirds said a co-worker had made inappropriate comments about their appearance while pregnant, and 7% lost their job through sacking, redundancy or feeling forced to leave.

“Pregnant workers and new parents are too often first in line for redundancy”, according to the public service union Unison, but a new law to make it harder for employers to lay them off was given royal assent in May. The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act is expected to protect mothers from being made redundant for up to six months after they return from maternity leave.

However, Pregnant Then Screwed has said that existing protections don’t currently stop some employers from making women on maternity leave redundant, so extending protections for a longer period will make little difference.

The Health and Safety Executive recommends that employers provide a private, healthy and safe environment for breastfeeding mothers to express and store milk, but the majority of those surveyed said they were not provided any suitable place to do so and had to use a toilet. Toilets are unsuitable for women to express breastmilk in and can lead to issues around supply, infections and anxiety, according to a 2019 survey from law firm Slater and Gordon.

Childcare costs are also one of the key factors that have influenced pregnant women to have an abortion. Six in 10 women who have had an abortion said the cost of childcare put them off pregnancy, according to Pregnant then Screwed data released in May.

*Names have been changed.

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