Most employers say applicants should disclose pregnancy

Six in 10 employers (59%) believe a woman should have to reveal she is pregnant during the recruitment process, according to research published today.

Almost half (46%) of employers agree that it is reasonable to ask women if they have young children during the recruitment process, and a similar proportion (44%) believe that women should work for an organisation for at least a year before deciding to have children.

The statistics from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which published the survey of senior decision makers, is calling on employers to eliminate these attitudes and, more importantly, pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace for good.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC chief executive, said: “It is a depressing reality that, when it comes to the rights of pregnant woman and new mothers in the workplace, we are still living in the dark ages.

“We should all know very well that it is against the law not to appoint a woman because she is pregnant or might become pregnant.

“Yet we also know that women routinely get asked questions around family planning in interviews. It’s clear that many employers need more support to better understand the basics of discrimination law and the rights of pregnant women and new mothers.”

The EHRC research, conducted in autumn 2017 by YouGov, also found that:

  • 44% of employers believe that women who have had more than one pregnancy while in the same job can be a “burden” to their team
  •  41% say that pregnancy in the workplace puts “an unnecessary cost burden” on the workplace
  • 40% of employers claim to have seen at least one pregnant woman in their workplace “take advantage” of their pregnancy
  • 32% believe women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are “generally less interested in career progression” than other employees.

Surprisingly, most HR decision makers share some of the sentiment of the wider survey sample. Of the 1,106 surveyed, 619 say they make decisions relating to HR, learning and development or recruitment. Of these, 28% strongly agree that, during recruitment, women should have to disclose whether they are pregnant. A further 35% say they “tend to agree”.

The research highlighted that decision makers in the education sector find it hardest to deal with pregnancy with 63% saying that women who have more than one pregnancy in the same job can be a burden on their team. This compared with just 18% in the legal sector.

The EHRC is calling on employers to eliminate such attitudes and is promoting its Working Forward initiative to improve business practices for parents.

It is a depressing reality that, when it comes to the rights of pregnant woman and new mothers in the workplace, we are still living in the dark ages” – Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC

It asks businesses to commit to taking action and provides employers with advice, guidance and resources to deliver on their pledges. Current members include Nationwide, Royal Mail and Transport for London.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said: “These findings show that there are still far too many employers who don’t understand or respect employment law as it relates to pregnant women and new mothers. Discrimination not only disadvantages individuals, but also means that employers themselves are missing out on attracting and retaining female talent.

“Much more needs to be done to help organisations improve their people management practices, particularly smaller firms, given the most negative attitudes to pregnancy and maternity in the survey are among those with 250 or fewer employees. Investment in manager capability is essential to challenge unlawful, short-sighted and unethical practice.”

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