Scottish Government Equality Outcomes: Pregnancy and Maternity Evidence Review

This evidence review was prepared to support the production of the Scottish Government's Equality Outcomes, with regard to pregnancy and maternity.

5 Employment

5.1 In 2005, the Equal Opportunities Commission conducted a formal investigation into pregnancy and maternity related discrimination20. This pre-dates the reform of equality legislation in Great Britain, in the Equality Acts of 2006 and 2010. This inquiry reported that "almost half" of all pregnant women experience "some form of disadvantage at work, simply for being pregnant or taking maternity [leave]. 30,000 are forced out of their jobs" (p.4). This same report highlighted the potential loss in earnings for women returning to work, from between five percent and 14% for women on lower incomes, and that 1 in 5 women returning to work after maternity leave were placed on a lower level of job21. Furthermore, the current economic climate and resulting uncertainty is increasing women's vulnerability within the labour market, especially when pregnant, according to recent statements from the International Labour Organisation22.

5.2 Information provision and knowledge levels on employment rights among employers and women are significant factors in pregnancy related discrimination in employment. According to the Equal Opportunities Commission research, pregnancy discrimination can be attributed to a lack of knowledge and understanding of maternity rights due to complexity of current legislation, negative perceptions of women and working mothers, and uncertainty of the financial costs and practical difficulties in covering maternity absence23. The Equal Opportunities Commission evidence shows that just three percent of women, on losing their job as a result of being pregnant, seek advice or any form of compensation.

5.3 Since 2005, the number of unfair dismissal claims registered annually was between 1,300 and 1,50024. In the period 2009-2012, there has been a 21% fall in the number of general claims being brought to employment tribunals25; however, claims relating to individuals who have suffered a detriment or unfair dismissal as a result of pregnancy, have remained constant at 1,900. Figures for 2012 reflect low average payouts awarded to successful unfair dismissal claims of £9,133, with only 12% of successful claims being awarded in excess of £20,000 in compensation26.

5.4 In relation to the experience of women in specific industrial sectors, an inquiry in 2009 by the EHRC27 into sex discrimination within the financial services industry found evidence of discriminatory practice. Findings show that in terms of recruitment, "women are more likely than men to be asked about their family circumstance and responsibilities during the recruitment process" (p.11).

5.5 In terms of career progression, the EHRC inquiry found evidence that negative management attitudes towards pregnancy and maternity leave were having a detrimental impact on women's career progression (p.11)28. Women traditionally take on a greater share of caring responsibilities within the household. As a result, some mothers wishing to work part-time after having a baby were found to suffer 'occupational downgrading' due to limited availability of high quality part-time positions29. Further research30 indicates that such discrimination has a detrimental impact on the progression of women's careers, resulting in lower wages. Switching from full-time to part-time working after childbirth has been associated with a 'pay penalty' to part-time work, when the switch is accompanied by a change of employer31. Further analysis reveals that 15% of mothers who had not reduced their working hours on their return to employment reported a decrease in earnings32.

5.6 From April 2008, amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) entitled women to a continuation of their contractual benefits, other than full pay, throughout the entire period of their maternity leave, where previously it had only applied to the first 26 weeks of maternity leave33. This meant that, from October 2008, women would continue to accrue holiday entitlement, as well as company benefits such as medical cover, life insurance and mobile phone usage whilst on maternity leave.

5.7 The type of employer, form of employment and mother's socio-economic characteristics all play an important part in influencing the rate of return to employment after childbirth34. Women who were highest qualified, had been in employment for more than 2 years prior to maternity leave, and were partnered, were more likely to return to work than lone mothers with no qualifications (ibid). Mothers in professional occupations (60%) were nearly twice as likely to extend their maternity leave beyond the 26 weeks compared with mothers in non-professional occupations (33%)35. Duration of maternity leave therefore was considerably shorter for those women who were employed in lower occupational grades, had fewer qualifications and received the least generous maternity packages36.

5.8 The provision of support for new mothers returning to the workplace is crucial, but only 10% of UK companies provide any support for mothers returning to work. This results in 1 in 5 women changing jobs within 18 months of their return to work37, with others struggling with issues of feeling undervalued, worthless and dissatisfied within their work. Furthermore, greater choice in terms of availability of flexible working arrangements improves morale amongst employees38.

5.9 Following maternity leave, a supportive relationship with superiors is a key contributing factor to enabling a smooth transition back into the workplace. A study conducted by the National Childbirth Trust (2009) found that 31% of women surveyed felt that their relationship with their employer had deteriorated since they became pregnant39. Inadequately managed reintegration back into the workforce can result in a detrimental impact on women's wellbeing and mental health. Initiatives such as the Scottish Parliament's maternity mentoring schemes and allocated "keeping in touch" days have been successful in maintaining contact with both expectant and new mothers, and their employers. Other good practice examples include financial services groups, where, for example Citi's 'Maternity Transition' programme has observed an increase in maternity return rates from 82% in 2005 to 97% in 2008. These higher retention rates of new mothers within Citi are estimated to have saved the company £2 million, due to fewer new positions being advertised and fewer new employees being trained up to replacement performance levels. In addition, returning mothers have indicated greater motivation and feeling valued by the company40.

5.10 Negative organisational attitudes towards breastfeeding by working mothers have been identified as contributing to shorter breastfeeding durations41. Recommendations from the research focused on targeting health initiatives of the benefits of breastfeeding to employers as well as mothers. Research has shown that supportive environments, with provision of and access to breastfeeding facilities at work, had a direct impact upon the likelihood of working at 4 and 6 months after the birth of a child, resulting in shorter periods of maternity leave42. However this only applied to mothers with higher levels of qualifications.

5.11 Ongoing changes to maternity provision and employment law have prompted the maternity rights group, Maternity Action, to run the Valuing Maternity43 campaign that demands job security during pregnancy and maternity, leave provisions that "promote real equality", and services to support safe and healthy pregnancy. The EHRC suggested in 2011 that changes to maternity rights provisions following recent legislative changes, including the 2010 Equality Act, should be monitored44.


5.12 Childcare costs can represent a significant proportion of household incomes. Concerns about these costs arise during pregnancy and affect decisions about seeking and staying in work, and related concerns about levels of household and child poverty45. The Resolution Foundation argues that the proportion of disposable income spent on childcare will increase following the introduction of Universal Credit, and the reduction in Working Family Tax Credit and Child Benefit.

5.13 Barnardo's estimates that the 10% reduction in childcare support within the Universal Credit provisions will cause further pressure on families already living in poverty, and that the proposals will significantly affect lone parents' incentive and ability to access employment46.

5.14 Access to affordable and suitable childcare is a significant factor in women's access to employment, education and training, and the costs of childcare have implications for personal and household budgets. Analysis by the UK Women's Budget Group asserts that the 1% cap on increases to benefits and tax credits, including maternity pay, amounts to an erosion of progress made for the equality of mothers in the labour market. Furthermore, parents on low incomes pay proportionately more towards the high cost of childcare, because of the reduction of the Childcare Tax Credit from 80% to 70% of child care costs47.


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