Four words no working woman should have to say…
A good mate of mine left a message the other day saying she needed some advice.
When I called her back it turned out she actually had some great news. She’d got a new job. Brilliant. Congratulations. Very exciting. AND she was pregnant. Lovely…
But, no sooner had that little line on the pregnancy test turned blue, and the ink dried on the work contract, than the two started to, shall we say, irritate each other a little. Now lovely Sarah, being very conscientious and not wanting to mess anyone around, had gone for a freelance rather than permanent job on account of her ‘condition’. The job she had was on a rolling month basis – so no major commitment from her new employer – though they did mention in passing that they might quite fancy her hanging around for six months. But of course they might not.
Sarah’s question for me was, what to do? Tell them she’s up the duff on day one, in which case they give her the nudge after the first month – leaving her job-hunting with a bump? Or go on a serious charm offensive paired with lots of floaty outfits and loud complaining about how ‘bloated’ she feels after carbs, make them fall in love with her, and then deliver the news.
She’s currently half way through Plan B, so we’ll let you know how that goes. But the thing that gets me, is that on the very call where she’s telling me her good news, the challenges of being a working mum are already starting to show.
Sarah is really not being paranoid; the discrimination pregnant women face is in fact, fact. Recent research found 11% of mothers reported being either dismissed, made compulsorily redundant (where others in their workplace were not) or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job – because they were a mother. And things are getting worse before they get better: the number of mums who lose their jobs for getting pregnant has almost doubled over the last 10 years. This is not paranoia. The cold, hard data points to the floaty dress option being the way forward. Plan B is in fact Plan A.
This discrimination comes down to the most basic biology. Women make up half of the population and over 80% will have a child at some point. When that pretty important thing for the future of the human race happens, we are going to need to take some time off.
But bosses are not happy with this whole perpetuating the human race thing. It really is terribly inconvenient for them. So much so that 40% of managers, surveyed by law firm Slater & Gordon, admitted they were wary of hiring a woman of childbearing age. Dangerous and unpredictable creatures that they are. And if you’re thinking you’ve already popped your sprogs so you’re fine, think again: a similar number would be wary of hiring a woman who already has a child, or hiring a mother for a senior role.
Bucking the trend, when my close friend Clare was on maternity leave she got a call from her boss asking her if she wanted to be promoted. If she was prepared, given that she had a new baby, to take on the extra responsibility. Clare’s boss also offered any combination of flexible working so long as the total was no less than four days. She thought about it for a about a nanosecond and then said yes.
Clare couldn’t believe her good fortune and was keen to tell our friends, and anyone who’d listen, how great her company was. They’d offered her flexible working and promoted her while on maternity leave. They rocked. And she was so happy.
Then disaster struck. She accidentally got pregnant. Oops. That blue line again.
Getting pregnant is a precious thing, but at this particular time in Clare’s life it was exactly what she did not want. She didn’t want another baby when she had a nine month old to care for already. She was just about to go back to work and would have to leave again after about five months; her career would be stalled again before she had even got it back on track.
Clare decided, seeing as her company were clearly so open minded and flexible and supportive to working mothers (or so she thought), to talk to them before she went back to work. She was under no legal obligation to do so, but she couldn’t bear the thought of turning up and then a few weeks later telling them she was pregnant.
So she told them when she was nine weeks.
And they took her promotion away.
Which is illegal.
But she felt in such a vulnerable position being pregnant, both emotionally and in terms of her negotiating position, that she kind of sucked it up. She couldn’t face the legal wrangling she would have to go through to get the thing sorted. She was knackered.
In the end she lost the baby and her company gave her the promotion back.
So yes – pregnant you are screwed.
Not pregnant – it’s all okay (from a career development POV anyway).
It’s not okay though is it? Not at all.
The fact that employers are happy to neglect us, ignore us and worse abuse us by sacking or demoting us, simply because we are growing another human inside us, is a travesty. Not just for business and industry but for society at large as well. It makes no sense to cast out half your work force because of the thin blue line. Workforces lose great and committed and clever people because of a different chromosome, just because they happen to be the ones who bear children. This sounds like some sort of dystopian nightmare. Not ‘home’.
Things need to change(.org). And faster. I’ve got a daughter who’s growing up by the day, and I want this fixed for her please. So let’s not apologetically drift off into the shadows (muttering ‘I’m sorry I’m pregnant’ – as I fear I did to my boss years ago when I was breaking the news). Let’s sign things. Let’s activate.
Let’s start by supporting Pregnant then Screwed’s campaign to give pregnant women and new mothers a better chance to submit unfair dismissal claims. #GiveMeSix, not the current paltry three month window – which seems cleverly timed to make sure would be claimants are rather tied up with late pregnancy or breastfeeding. You can sign their petition calling for change here.
Let’s act, so no woman will ever have to say “I’m sorry I’m pregnant” again.
Share with anyone else who might have been screwed.