60,000 women a year lose their jobs as a result of having a baby. It’s time to hear their stories, says Joeli Brearley.
I was a successful, self-employed project manager when I discovered that I was pregnant. I knew that having a baby would mean losing some momentum with my freelance work, and of course I anticipated some financial belt-tightening, but I planned everything meticulously to ensure that my clients and projects would be well looked-after in my absence.
I would have the baby before my main project concluded: a little challenging, but I found the perfect replacement and informed my client of the situation. I was confident that the remainder of the project would be executed according to plan. The client voiced concern about how this would affect their organisation. Then, without any further communication, I was sacked. For a long time my confidence was shattered.
How was I going to pick up any more contracts before I had the baby? Nobody would employ a visibly pregnant woman. I contacted a solicitor but was told that it was a matter involving contract law, not employment law, and that winning a court case against my now-former client would be extremely unlikely. The doctor told me not to get stressed.
My experience isn’t an isolated incident: 60,000 women a year lose their jobs because of pregnancy and maternity discrimination. This figure doesn’t account for women who are demoted, suffer harassment, aren’t put forward for promotion or lose contracts if they are self-employed. The problem is systemic and it is systematically being ignored.
The major challenge is that women who are victims of discrimination don’t want to talk about it publicly. They are scared they will be branded troublemakers and that speaking out may prevent them from securing employment in the future. If a woman still works for the company that has treated her unfairly, she may feel that with the added responsibility of child-raising she cannot afford to lose her job or damage good relationships with her colleagues.
If she has taken the company to tribunal, she may have signed a confidentiality agreement preventing her from speaking out. So discrimination against pregnant women and women with children continues to take place behind closed doors, crushing women’s confidence, stagnating their abilities and costing the economy untold amounts through lost potential.
In response to this, I launched a project called Pregnant Then Screwed. It is a place for women to tell their stories anonymously and in their own words. This is not only a cathartic way to release some of the bruising and unfair experiences they have undergone, it is also a medium to shine a light on this systemic problem. It is a way to open a public debate and ultimately aim to change common preconceptions about pregnant women whilst campaigning for more effective laws to protect them.
Our first campaign tackles the time limit. As the law stands, from the point at which you have been subjected to any kind of workplace discrimination, you have three months to take a case to tribunal. For maternity discrimination, those three months usually come at a time when you are exhausted, lacking in confidence and kneedeep in baby poo. Making your lunch every day can feel like climbing Mount Everest; masterminding an employment tribunal would feel nigh-on impossible.
Increasing the time limit to 12 months would mean that women could tackle a tribunal after they have had their baby and at a time when they are fully able to take on this challenge. Women should be able to log a complaint against an employer within three months but be given up to 12 months to deal with any legal proceedings.
If you have a story to tell, I hope you can feel confident enough to post it, entirely confidentially, on the site. If you would like to support this project and raise awareness of discrimination against pregnant women and new mums then sign up to be part of our community and follow us on Twitter.
For more advice and information, visit our website.
Source: The Guardian