As maternity Leave approached, being a woman in the corporate world feels a lot like competing in a 400-meter hurdle, except the other athletes are men running a 100-meter dash.
Crossing that finish line could mean winning a job, getting a promotion, or even just getting recognition for all the hard work. But winning isn’t easy, and it requires women to overcome hurdles like gender bias, unequal pay, sexism, and even harassment in the workplace.
However, it doesn’t mean you can’t win.
You can, but only if you can compete like a man. You know, manage to squeeze into the old boys’ club, work twice as hard as your male co-workers, laugh off an occasional sexist joke, and, oh yes—most importantly, ditch the womb.
The corporate world may not be an ideal place at the best of times, but it is far from fair for women, particularly mothers. Two tiny red lines on a strip have the power to tip the scales and send their careers plummeting. And it doesn’t help that even the referee standing at the end of the line secretly believes that a man is more deserving of the win.
As numbers from studies clearly show, women in the UK are less likely to get promoted compared to men after they have procreated and had a Baby. This bias has a name and is known as the pregnancy penalty.
We are born with a uterus, which goes into overdrive every month nagging for a baby and then wrecks havoc on our hormones and guts when we refuse to give in.
And the day you do, whatever your reason may be, the corporate world deems you weak and is ready to cast you aside. You may have been an asset to the company, but now you and your offspring are a liability.
Sure, a woman may be strong enough to survive 24 hours of intense labour pains and give birth to a watermelon, but she’s not tough enough to handle a bit more responsibility at work!
She can have the seat on the train, and men and women alike will get up to offer it, but she can forget about a seat in the boardroom.
Does getting pregnant really mean flinging yourself off the ladder mid-career? Is it really career suicide if a woman decides to have a child?
Pregnancy Penalty vs. Fatherhood Bonus
On the one hand, we penalize women and limit their career progression. We tell them that they must choose between a family and a career-and yet, when it comes to men, we do not discourage them from procreating.
In fact, one study found that fathers get a higher salary than their childless co-workers. They are also more likely to get a promotion because they now have a family to provide for and care for. And in order to show their support, fathers also get a fat little ‘fatherhood bonus.’ This is a 21% increase in pay to take home to their wife and child.
Yep, now that’s something a woman can only dream of.
Instead, women get the pregnancy penalty.
While they don’t expect a standing ovation for making a tiny addition to further the cause of humanity, they also do not expect to be reduced to the side-lines and, in some cases, even penalised financially.
In a survey, 77% of women shared that they faced discrimination during pregnancy, maternity leave, and even on their return, while one out of nine were forced to leave their job.
Pregnancy discrimination can be defined as the ill or unfair treatment due to pregnancy, childbirth, or maternity leave that women face. This discrimination can take various forms, including a denial of promotion, a reduction of hours or pay, or even a termination of employment.
In some cases, this discrimination could be explicit and outright- like rejecting an employees’ request for flexibility or accommodation. For example, for one woman working in retail, it meant fainting from dehydration because their manager refused to let them carry a water bottle.
While in some other cases it can be more subtle, and might involve reassigning important projects to other employees or exclusion from training activities.
And in some cases, it might be as outright as simply refusing to pay, as was the case for Alysia Montao.
Winning Marathons While Pregnant-Literally
Getting pregnant was career suicide for World Championships medallist Alysia Montao, who faced financial discrimination when she became pregnant.
When she announced her pregnancy, Nike informed her that she would not be paid until she returned to the track. The contract would be on hold and would only resume when she decided she was ready to come back and participate in events.
Frustrated and furious at the discrimination, Alysia called it quits with Nike and signed up with Asics instead, hoping for support and a better policy on pregnant employees. She continued to train throughout her pregnancy and ran the 800-meter Track & Field national championship while she was 8 months pregnant to prove that Nike had been wrong.
However, Asics wasn’t far from its competitor and demanded that she resume training and competing just months after her daughter’s birth- which she eventually did.
Alysia wasn’t the only athlete to face this discrimination. Nike refused to pay Olympian Kara Goucher too during her pregnancy. She had to return to the tracks two months postpartum.
It’s unfair what the women went through, and surely, climbing a few blocks to a dingy desk job pales in comparison to the physical efforts of these moms.
After a lot of backlash, Nike finally decided to change. In 2019, the company announced that it would not reduce pay or penalize expecting moms for a period of 18 months.
The change didn’t happen in a day, but it shows the courage and struggle of women like Alysia and Kara. There women demanded that companies form policies that help and support pregnant athletes.
Similarly, women in the workplace in the UK who faced pregnancy discrimination continue to fight the same battles. The landscape may be different, and they may not be in training to run marathons, but the battle in the workplace is the same.
And the first thing expectant moms or women planning to get pregnant need to know is that they have legal protection.
What are the rights of pregnant women in the UK?
Pregnant women have legal rights that protect them and their child. Being aware of these rights is the first step to ensuring that you are not mistreated. These laws require the company to be unbiased and guard their employees’ well-being.
First of all, pregnant employees are entitled to take time off for up to ten antenatal appointments without loss of pay. At the same time, the partner is entitled to up to two antenatal appointments free of charge.
Pregnant employees are entitled to take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, out of which two weeks post-delivery are mandatory, with up to 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay. Moreover, and perhaps, most importantly, pregnant employees have the right to return to the same job after their maternity leave or to a similar position with the same terms and conditions.
Pregnant women are also protected from discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity under the Equality Act 2010. Employers in the UK must carry out a risk assessment for pregnant employees and make any necessary adjustments to ensure their health and safety at work. Expectant mothers can also make a flexible work request to their employer, although the employer is not obliged to grant this request.
Fired while Pregnant?
An employer cannot fire a woman for getting pregnant. Period.
If they do, there are serious consequences. An unfair dismissal is applicable after two years of employment, but pregnancy discrimination and automatic unfair dismissal related to pregnancy or maternity leave can be claimed from day one.
Those dismissed during pregnancy or maternity leave have the right to a written explanation and may still be eligible for maternity pay. Women experiencing pregnancy discrimination should seek legal advice promptly, as time limits for a tribunal claim may apply.
Another thing you need to know about this is the Part of the Equality Act 2010. The PDA protects employees and job applicants from pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace and allows for legal action and compensation.
In short, the law protects pregnant women; unfortunately, in most cases, it is the company or work culture that does not have their best interests at heart.
When to tell employers of your pregnancy?
Do you tell your employer you are thinking of getting pregnant, or do you leave it out until you actually have a bun in the oven? How soon is too soon? And how late can you push it if you’re still not showing?
Ideally, a good time to announce the news is 15 weeks before the baby’s due date. If you are comfortable, letting your employer know even before is even better, because that way you can work out arrangements like maternity leave and maternity pay.
If you do not provide this notice, your employer can delay the leave by up to 8 weeks. You also need to notify them that you are expecting so that you can take time off for antenatal appointments.
Basically, there is no specific law that requires someone to disclose plans to get pregnant. Also being questioned about their family planning is against the law, but once you know, it is better to let your employer know and work on arrangements for a smooth process, especially if your job requires work that could be a health hazard or risk to you or the baby,
If you are an Employer, and wish to learn what you can do to support Female Colleagues throughout their Maternity period, we would highly recommend This Book – Kindle or Hardback. The Book was written with the support of Workplace Psychologists and Career Development Experts, and will ensure that not only do you avoid Discriminating against Pregnant colleagues, but actively support their continued development in the Workplace.
Sick leaves during Pregnancy in the UK
Pregnant women are entitled to take time off work if they cannot work due to pregnancy. This time off work is known as sick leave, which is covered by your employer’s sick pay scheme if one is in place. If the employee is entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), she will be eligible to receive this for up to 33 weeks of sick leave.
If a woman cannot work due to pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before the due date, she will be considered on maternity leave. Pregnant employees will be entitled to statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance instead of sick pay. It is essential to follow the employer’s procedures for reporting sickness and to keep them informed of the reasons for the absence and any updates on the expected return to work.
Fight Back – Changing the Rules of The Game
The rules are there, so why are women still being forced into a corner? Why is it that many women are being forced to delay childbirth, choosing to freeze their eggs instead of having a baby when they can? And why do pregnant women suddenly become invisible to employers or are subtly pushed out of the workforce?
Even the most inclusive companies like Nike and Acis haven’t been kind to pregnant women. It’s all fine till the womb is empty, but the minute you announce that there is a bun in the oven, the employer wants nothing to do with it.
This is because there is still discrimination against women, particularly mums in the workplace and company culture. It may have taken more than a decade for corporations to truly realize the potential of women, but it will take even more to get where it should be.
So now, we fight. We read, we speak up, share our stories, and demand a change in the rules of the game.
Instead of policies that discriminate against moms with kids, we demand that companies provide day-care for Babies and Children, and offer flexibility to female employees. There should be no such thing as career suicide. Instead of assuming that an employee cannot handle a promotion, we ask women their preference in the matter.
Perhaps most importantly, let them know that our ability to be a mother does not diminish or impair our ability to perform at work.
If anything, it makes us stronger and more determined to win and reach the finish line. All we need, is a little support.
We really hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, then you may wish to also explore our article on Maternity Leave – The Impact on Your Career. Alternatively, you may wish to consider purchasing This Book Which has been designed by Psychologists and Workplace Performance experts to ensure pregnant women are well equipped for continuing success in the workplace!