54,000 women a year in the UK lose their jobs because they are pregnant or have children (EHRC 2016)
I am currently speaking with women who have suffered or are suffering as a result of pregnancy or maternity discrimination. The conversations are completely anonymous – you have my word – and the information I gather will be used to lobby for and create change in the workplace for women across the UK and beyond. I’m looking for women from across the world who are willing to share their stories with me in depth – the conversations can take place over the phone, Skype, or in person and will last at least an hour. Send me your details if you would like more information.
Women who I have interviewed so far have told me how much the process has helped them. Often women go through this process in solitude and they never have the opportunity to talk through what has happened to them in such detail. In short, the don’t have a voice. They are not heard.
Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is illegal and, legally speaking, is covered under the Equality Act 2010. If you’ve been treated unfairly because: a) you are pregnant, b) have a child or c) for something associated with motherhood (such as if you’re breastfeeding) then technically you have a case to take to the civil courts.
I say technically because, whilst the law is written in black and white and we tell our children that if people do bad things then they have to face the consequences, this is rarely the case. 77% of mothers who are in paid work have said they suffered from maternity discrimination, and yet only 3% have questioned it through their internal process. Only 1% of women in this situation have taken it to a tribunal. (Figures relating to the UK)
Why is this? I believe, having spoken to many women who have gone through this, that the reasons for not fighting are as varied as the situations themselves. In the most part, women don’t have the energy to fight. Having recently given birth and trying to navigate through a path of hormones, sleepless nights and personal crises of confidence, there are little reserves left for holding polite conversation, let alone a battle that – if taken to court – can go on for months or years.
Gagged if you do, gagged if you don’t
The other reason is that women don’t know how to fight this toxic situation. It’s all very well and good posting quotes on to Facebook such as Gandhi’s
“Be the change you want to see in the world”
but when you’re scared, knackered, bullied and trying to be the best mother you can be, it’s often the case that you can’t lead from the front. Instead women who find themselves in this situation often look for examples of other women who have gone before them. There are none. If you don’t take action against your employer then you aren’t able to talk about what has happened as the other party hasn’t had a chance to fight their corner. Fair enough, you may say. But what about when the 3% of women who seek justice through their internal grievance process win? Surely they can shout from the rooftops:
“THIS HAPPENED TO ME! THIS IS HOW YOU GET THROUGH IT!”
Fraid not. They’re given a sum of money in return for their signature on a NDA (non-disclosure agreement). The bullies get away with it, the women remain gagged and the scene is set for another 54,000 women to be discriminated against next year.
We have watched the #MeToo movement gain momentum, and 2018 is the year for #timesup. Women have secrets that they don’t want to keep, but the current legal system prevents them from breaking their silence. It’s time for change.
With thanks to Gemma Skelding for her support and work on the Mother’s Work logo.