Most UK employers believe a woman should have to disclose if she is pregnant during a recruitment process, according to “ very depressing” statistics from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The EHRC warned that many businesses were “decades behind the law” after a YouGov survey of 1,106 senior decision-makers revealed that a third of those working for private companies thought it was reasonable to ask a woman about her plans to have children in the future during the recruitment process, 59% said she should have to disclose if she is pregnant and almost half (46%) said it was also reasonable to ask a woman if she had small children.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, the chief executive of the EHRC, said the findings were “depressing” and accused many British companies of “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 women routinely get asked questions around family planning in interviews,” she said. “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 survey also found that 44% of employers believed women should work for an organisation for at least a year before deciding to have children, while the same number said women who had more than one pregnancy while in the same job could be a “burden to their team”.
The research chimes with the hundreds of examples of discrimination recorded by the website Pregnant then Screwed. One 32-year-old media worker was told in an interview “that they really liked me but I had one child already and soon I would probably want another so they would have to be careful how much they invested in me”.
A 29-year-old senior human resources executive said she was told in her interview that the company “didn’t want to have someone that leaves the office at 6pm because of some nursery run. We need someone who is committed.”
“The fact is that companies with more women in senior positions are more prosperous and profitable, therefore it is in the interest of employers to eliminate conscious and unconscious bias towards pregnant women and new mums.’
According to the EHRC survey, 40% of employers claim to have seen at least one pregnant woman in their workplace “take advantage” of their pregnancy, and about a third believe new mothers in work are “generally less interested in career progression” compared with other employees. Four in 10 employers agree that pregnancy in the workplace puts “an unnecessary cost burden” on the workplace. Half said there is sometimes resentment among employees towards women who are pregnant or on maternity leave, while a third do not think it is easy to protect expectant or new mothers from discrimination in the workplace.
The EHRC successfully launched “Working Forward” in 2016 at the Houses of Parliament. “Working Forward”, is a campaign to improve workplaces for pregnant women and new parents and urged companies to sign up for a pledge to treat them fairly.
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