Having a family is still holding women back at work

A new national survey has found that discrimination against mothers in the workplace is “pervasive” and that women returning to the workforce after taking leave are most at risk.

A new survey of 2000 birth and adoptive mothers conducted for the Human Rights Commission by Roy Morgan Research has found that 49 per cent have experienced discrimination at some point during their pregnancy, parental leave or upon their return to work.

The headline data results were released by the Commission on Monday April 7 with Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick saying it was the first “nationally representative survey of women’s perceived experiences of discrimination” arising as a result of pregnancy.

“Commonly reported types of discrimination women experienced during pregnancy, or when on parental leave, included reductions in salary, missing out on training, professional development and promotional opportunities,” Ms Broderick said.

“The most common types of discrimination women reported experiencing on returning to work after parental leave included negative comments about breastfeeding or working part-time or flexibly and being denied requests to work flexibly.”

The Commission will release a more detailed set of results mid year but has already provided a breakdown on some of the survey’s major findings.

According to the results, 27 per cent of mothers reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace during their pregnancy while 32 per cent reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace when they requested or took parental leave.

However, the most common point at which a mother was likely to be discriminated against was upon their return to the workforce with 35 per cent of respondents falling into this last category.

The nature of the discrimination often meant that women lost their positions with 18 per cent of mothers indicating they were made redundant, restructured, dismissed or did not have their contracts renewed either during the pregnancy, when they took leave or upon their return to the workforce.

Large numbers of women also reported cuts to pay and conditions as a result of their pregnancy, with their hours being changed or job description being changed.

The mental health consequences for those who experienced discrimination were significant with 72 per cent reporting increased stress or self-esteem and confidence issues. A further 42 per cent said the discrimination had a financial impact on them.

Other significant findings suggest that 22 per cent of mothers who experience discrimination at work during their pregnancy did not return to the workforce as an employee while 23 per cent did not return to work for the same employer.

Nearly a third of women who experience discrimination look for another job or resign and the vast majority of women who experience discrimination do not make a formal complaint.

A second survey also found that, despite taking shorter periods of leave, 27 per cent of father and partner respondents also reported experiencing discrimination during parental leave or upon their return to the office.

“The data reflects what I have heard about negative attitudes towards men taking parental leave or working flexibly to care for their children,” Ms Broderick said.

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