Six out of ten mothers think their careers were “derailed” and they faced open discrimination after becoming pregnant, new research by Slater and Gordon has revealed.
Millions of new mums believe they were denied work opportunities and they were forced to re-prove themselves after returning to work.
Nearly seven in ten claimed to have been taken off their career path and put on what equality campaigners have branded the ‘Mummy Track’ where they are side-lined as less experienced colleagues were often promoted ahead of them.
Three quarters of those polled reported their employer had been less interested in their career after they became a mother, while 63% said they felt their boss had a negative perception of working mothers. Nearly half said they were made to feel guilty for taking maternity leave and six in ten felt their career options were limited as soon as they announced they were pregnant.
The research into the experiences of 2,003 working mothers was commissioned by Slater and Gordon which represents hundreds of women fighting maternity discrimination across the country each year.
The law firm have released the research to coincide with the launch of Helping Working Mums to encourage women to share their experiences of maternity discrimination and highlight the issues faced by working mothers.
Senior Slater and Gordon Employment Lawyer Kiran Daurka said, "The term 'the mummy track' is well-known amongst those fighting maternity discrimination. We hear troubling stories from mothers every day about how they were mistreated after returning from maternity leave and have found their careers derailed.
"Some employers don't seem to value mothers in the workplace at all and we hear from women who are side-lined from the minute they announce their pregnancy. But the desire to keep their job means that often women feel they have to turn a blind eye and watch as their male peers get promoted to senior management.
“It’s short-sighted of business to put any obstacles in the way of talented individuals who want to contribute to their company; there are millions of mothers who should be a real asset to a business, not relegated and overlooked.
“HM Government needs to do more to combat maternity discrimination, in particular, put a duty on employers to accommodate women returning to work after maternity leave in order to level the playing field."
Slater and Gordon's research has revealed that women often find themselves offered less senior roles (18%) and opportunities (27%), demoted (8%) and overlooked after they return from maternity leave (27%). Three quarters said they felt there was a perception that mums wouldn’t be ambitious and that their boss didn’t think they were as capable once they had children. While the average mother took just under nine months off after they had their baby, 30% were back after just three months.
When asked why they took less than their full year entitlement most women (39%) said they were worried about losing their job if they took longer and six in ten said they felt under pressure from their boss to return as quickly as possible.
Nearly half of mothers (48%) said they think they would have been taken more seriously if they had taken less maternity leave and 29% said they were made to feel like they had ‘missed too much’. Nearly eight out of ten women said the person hired to cover their maternity leave was retained by the company after they had returned and 37% admitted that this bothered them and contributed towards them finding it hard to settle back in.
A quarter supported the idea of companies having a specific programme to make sure women don't fall off the career ladder after having children and three in ten said they would have liked to have shared their maternity leave with their partner.
On a positive note, the majority of mothers said they didn't think their children would have the same problems in the workplace with a third of those polled blaming 'sexist' and 'old fashioned' attitudes towards mothers for their experience, and out-dated views on whether women should work or not; something one would hope will eventually die out.
Nearly a third of mothers said they thought they were a better employee after they had children despite the difficulties they faced. More than half of women thought a change in attitude towards flexible working would have helped them continue to pursue their career and 15% said a culture of ‘presenteeism’ put mothers on the back foot.
A quarter said their company needed to better implement their maternity policies and more than a third said that their firm needed to have working mothers in senior positions to inspire new mothers.
Kiran Daurka also said, "One of the key issues with maternity discrimination is that women often don't feel they can share their experience with others as they don't want to jeopardise their role. Women often don’t realise how widespread the issue is and how many women have similar experiences. In our experience many women that do raise a formal complaint will end up leaving and signing a confidentiality agreement as part of the settlement terms.
“Therefore, the problem is hugely prevalent but not in the public domain. To break the silence we have set up Helping Working Mums where we hope women will share their experiences of maternity discrimination. Sharing experiences will create more awareness of the issues that mums face, whilst also making women feel less alone."
Kiran Daurka is a Senior Employment Lawyer at Slater and Gordon in London.
Slater and Gordon are a nationwide law firm with 1,450 staff and 18 offices across London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Milton Keynes, Merseyside, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Wakefield, Halifax & meeting rooms in Bramhall, Cheshire.