It’s Time for Change – Part 2

In this second blog on the discrimination pregnant women and new mothers face in the workplace I examine some of the reasons why this is still prevalent and some of the most recent research from the United Nations.  If you haven’t read my first post you can find it here.

The anecdotal evidence indicates that discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers is still more common than it should be.  Google ‘bias against pregnant women’ and you get 74 million results with articles in Forbes, the ABC and BBC. 

So why is this discrimination still happening? As with most things which involve people there is not one simple cause, we are working in a complex system so there are many factors at play.  Therefore, when it comes to solving this problem just looking at it from a legal perspective is not enough. We need to look at the wider system and work to understand what is driving the behaviour of individuals and organisations to continue this discrimination.

In a new report from the United Nations 90% of people – both men and women – display prejudiced sentiments toward women.  The UN surveyed people from 75 countries representing 80% of the global population and looked at 7-key measures of gender equality including whether women and men have the same rights to university and whether men make better business executives.  As many as 91% of men and 86% of women showed at least one clear bias against women, based on the 7-key metrics.

Unsurprisingly, the report showed women were more inclined toward gender equality than men: 52% of men displayed two to four gender biases.  However, the spread of sexual biases was apparent among both men and women. It also appears that the problem is worsening. For instance, based on current trends, it would take 257 years to close the gender gap in economic opportunity.

What is continuing to support this widespread discrimination?

  1. Social Norms – prescribing social roles and power relations between men and women in society.  Women often face strong conventional societal expectations to be caregivers and homemakers; men are expected to be the breadwinners
  2. Family Norms – experiences from childhood create an unconscious gender bias.  Parenting practices and behaviours contribute to an individual’s gendered behaviours and expectations.
  3. Economic constraints – in many businesses the economic cost of pregnancy and maternity leave becomes a significant constraint, especially for small and medium sized organisations.  The cost of recruiting and training a new employee to cover maternity leave and the perceived disruption to the business leads to employers consciously not recruiting women of child bearing age.   

Legislation will not remove these social and family norms – only through education and a change in the use of social or psychological rewards to reinforce new gender social norms will we see any significant change.  Social norms are the hardest to change when individuals have the most to gain from complying with it and the lost to lose from challenging it.

In my next blog, I will share with you some ideas on how we can improve the way pregnant women and mothers are treated in the workplace.  If you are an employer I would love to hear your story. Please PM in confidence.

Charlotte Mawle

Charlotte Mawle

Charlotte Mawle is a co-director of Change Optimised and mother of two teenage children. She is driven by a desire to help individuals thrive during change and supporting organisations to become future fit. She advocates for women in the workplace and she enjoys participating in sport and is currently training for her first half Ironman triathlon.

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