Would you pretend to be childless for a job?

How discrimination against working mums is still rife

A recent news item revealed that mums looking to go back to work have been told to leave out maternity leave from their CVs to give them a better chance of getting a job.

Just Mums Recruitment director Rachel Perkins said that “other recruitment agencies and a human resources manager had told some of their clients to replace maternity leave on their resumes with travel or study to improve their chances of getting a job”.

It really does go beyond the pale when you’re advised to pretend you haven’t got children in order to get an interview with some companies, but is it realistic? Is this the reality mums face?

While most companies will profess to be family friendly and flexible, is this just a smokescreen when the reality is that working, or would-be working mothers still face discrimination from employers and colleagues alike?

Ms Perkins said it was incredibly disappointing to hear discrimination against mothers was so common they were being advised to hide that part of their lives from potential employers.

“Discrimination against mothers is the highest form of workplace discrimination in Australia and this takes it to a new level,” she said.

When it comes to getting a new job, potential employers are not supposed to ask women about their family life as part of an interview, but it is still very much commonplace.

They may say “this has no bearing on our decision-making process”, but surely if they’re going to ask the question, it must have some significance. They’re not just being chatty.

Sadly, the discrimination also seems to stand when it comes to women’s existing jobs, from which they have taken maternity leave. It’s still far too commonplace for women to find that, on return to work after maternity, they have been side-lined or even demoted. In some reports they have returned to work to find they no longer have a desk, let alone an office!

This discrimination often starts from the minute you tell your boss you’re pregnant. While they pretend to be over the moon for you, their demeanour and general attitude or level of engagement with you changes…You start to become invisible… either that or on the flipside they work you like a dog right up until the day you leave in an effort to make you pay for daring to have children.

Pregnancy discrimination is unacceptable. There is no excuse for it. We need women in the workforce, and if half of those women are mothers, then discrimination against them simply does not make financial sense, let alone moral sense.

Last year an Australian Human Rights Commission national review of pregnancy and returning to work found 49 per cent of women and 27 per cent of men experienced discrimination in the workplace related to parental leave and return to work.

The Commission found that one in two women in Australia reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace during their pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work.

One in five women (18 per cent) reported that they were made redundant, restructured, dismissed or had their contracts not renewed during the pregnancy/return to work process. And in our own survey, 24 per cent of women who have returned to work said they felt less valued as an employee than they did before they had a baby. 36 per cent also said they had been discriminated against by employers and colleagues for being a working mother and not taking their role seriously enough.

The Data was part of the Commission’s “Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review,” examining discrimination experienced by women in the workplace owing to their pregnancy, request to or taking of parental leave, and their return to work following parental leave.

Mothers coming back to work after maternity leave have the legal right to return to the same or similar job. Unfortunately that word “similar” is a very grey area. It’s like hiring a car that says, “a Volkswagen Golf, or similar” and you just know you’re going to actually get something of much lower quality and half the horsepower, but because of the wording there’s nothing you can do about it!

The fact is that it’s all still a little bit vague. As parents we’re officially, legally allowed to ask for flexibility; to request part time or reduced hours, or propose flexible working arrangements. And although employers must consider this request, there is no obligation for them to accept, even if there really is no business argument against it.

This discrimination means that women still have to choose between having a successful career or having a baby.

We’re not talking about the glass ceiling and the high level jobs either. We’re talking about middle and lower paid jobs.

Dr Eva Neitzert, deputy chief executive of the UK’s Fawcett Society, said: “Maternity discrimination is often seen as a challenge facing primarily professional women, but our research clearly shows that this is a significant issue for low paid women as well.”

The Fawcett Society’s recent report revealed that one in 10 women in low-paid work is demoted when she returns from maternity leave, according to research that reveals the scale of discrimination against new mothers and the difficulty of challenging it.

So what can be done about it? Unfortunately not that much, because while there are still grey areas, loop holes and ways around taking back a female employee into the same job, employers will still take advantage of those grey areas and with smiling faces and a gift, wave “their girls” off on maternity leave, never to be seen again.

 

Written and published for CareforKids.com.au:  http://www.careforkids.com.au/newsletter/2015/june/3/discrimination.html#

 

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