Two-thirds of women returning to work from maternity leave or career breaks are under-utilised, costing the UK economy a potential £1.7 billion and professional women over £1 billion in earnings.
Three in five of those returning to the workforce are likely to move into lower-skilled or lower-paid roles. This will reduce their immediate earnings by up to a third.
Meanwhile, 29,000 women who return to the workforce on a part-time basis will be underemployed - they would prefer to work more hours but are not able to because of the lack of flexible working availability. The figures come from recent PWC report: The £1 billion potential of women returners.
Sadly, discrimination against maternity returners is still a common experience. The law in the UK prohibits discrimination against pregnant women and women returning from maternity leave but we regularly act for clients who have been made redundant while on or shortly after returning from maternity leave.
The findings in the report, that addressing the ‘career break penalty’ could boost women’s earnings by an average of £4,000, come as little surprise to me.
According to the report, there are approximately 427,000 female professionals from varied lines of work currently taking a career break and wanting to return to work in the future. It is my hope that they will be fully utilised but in order for this to happen businesses must increase opportunities for flexible working and part-time work and remove negative bias towards career breaks on CVs.
It is important that small businesses recognise the value female candidates could add to their business and not disregard applications based on gender and age. Similarly, it is completely unacceptable for job offers to be withdrawn for pregnant candidates as too often happens in SMEs.
Julie Morris is the head of employment law at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
Slater and Gordon are employment experts with years of experience dealing with all types of maternity and paternity related cases. If you have experienced unfair treatment at related to pregnancy or maternity call us on freephone 0800 916 9060 or contact us online.