Study reveals a quarter of mums could face discrimination at work

woman in workplace

woman in workplace

It can be a daunting time for any new mum but is returning to the workplace viewed as a milestone plagued with struggles or an exciting new challenge?

A recent survey has revealed that one in four mums who have returned to work believe they have been subjected to discrimination, either before or after the birth of their child.

And out of the 2,000 women questioned during the research by OnePoll, for legal firm Slater & Gordon, around half (51pc) said their employers' and colleagues' attitude towards them changed when they became pregnant.

The report saw close to 60pc of mothers agree that they felt their pregnancy was a problem for their workplace. So with these statistics revealing a distressing picture, to what extent is this a problem in Norfolk?

Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, questioned the credibility of the survey, and said she was worried that it left more questions than answers.

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'The survey seems to be purely based on perception and feelings without referring to any evidence or examples,' she said.

'During these very challenging economic times difficult decisions have to be made but from the feedback I have from our Norfolk members they value their 'working mums'.

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'In Norfolk we have a large number of successful business women, many of them with children, who are respected by their employers and their colleagues for the great work they do.'

Mrs Williams said she believed hiring pregnant women or working mothers did not create an additional challenge for the employer but that employers have to ensure that the whole workforce is motivated while ensuring that the business stays profitable.

Norfolk County Council (NCC), one of the largest employers in the county, currently operate a range of flexible working schemes including job share, compressed hours, flexitime, mobile and home working.

Audrey Sharp, acting head of human resources, believed NCC had a good record as a 'family friendly employer' and for accommodating the needs of people returning to work after having a baby.

She said: 'Like all businesses we have to strike the right balance between making these adjustments and continuing to meet our number one priority. If we get the balance right, we are much more likely to retain staff who have the training, skills and experience we need.

'We think we do get it right most of the time and the facts speak for themselves. We have a very high percentage of people successfully returning to work after their maternity leave and a high level of satisfaction among that group of staff who work for Norfolk County Council.'

The survey also revealed that 66pc believed things had been 'difficult' for them since they returned from maternity leave, with 50pc claiming their career progression had been halted.

And even though the recent news of the Royal baby has cast a positive light on new arrivals, for one Norfolk mum her experiences of retuning to work some years ago was anything but happy.

Ruth Bennett, of Ambrose Close, Bowthorpe, was made redundant from a Norwich-based office supplies company in 2000 after being told it could not support her new part-time hours, despite her achieving the top sales figures.

The 48-year-old worked for the company for four-and-a-half years and became pregnant with her daughter Rachel, now aged 14, in 1997. She said that is when the problems began.

'I was blamed for ruining meetings, accused of making my pregnancy a bigger deal than it was, and boring customers by talking about my baby,' she said.

'These are the same customers that knitted presents and gave me gifts when Rachel was born.'

Miss Bennett returned to work four months after giving birth and was still breast feeding. She was never given anywhere private to express milk and said she also became victim to lewd comments about her body.

The company has now gone bankrupt and she is happy in her new role working in education but advised other women to seek help as soon as possible if they are faced with discrimination.

She said: 'Comments that make your eyes tear up and comments that hurt you, that's when you need to seek advice. Record it and log it.'

Charity the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) offers information and support in pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood and said it was shocked to see parents being treated unfairly by their employer.

In a press statement it said: 'In this day and age it's unacceptable that women still have to choose between having a baby and having a career, yet without proper support from employers, for too many this is the reality.

'Forward thinking employers realised long ago that supporting parents increases productivity and avoids the loss of skilled and experienced staff. It's about time the rest of UK business joined the 21st century.'

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