Nearly a month ago, Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, revealed she was pregnant with her first child.
It was later revealed that Ardern found out she was pregnant a few days before she was elected Prime Minister.
Not surprisingly, due the ingrained misogyny of our society that many so vehemently deny, comment sections on Facebook turned into a battlefield of people debating whether she should have disclosed this information before becoming Prime Minister.
The simple fact is that she, like no other woman in a similar situation, is legally obliged to reveal their pregnancy or intent to take maternity leave until 15 weeks before they are due to give birth.
This means a woman can wait until she is 25 weeks pregnant – around 6 months – before she needs to tell her employer.
Most women, like Ardern, tell their employers when they reach the 12 week mark. This is when the risk of miscarriage is greatly reduced and the growing bump may not be as easy to hide.
Yet, even with these laws in place, new research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has found that 59 per cent of UK employers believe a woman should have to reveal if she is pregnant during the recruitment process.
Furthermore, 46 per cent believe it is reasonable to ask a woman if she has small children while 36 per cent believe it’s okay to ask a woman about her plans to have children in the future.
To find the results, YouGov conducted the research on behalf of the EHRC and questioned 1,106 senior decision makers on their attitudes towards pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
Chief Executive of the EHRC, Rebecca Hilsenrath said in a statement: “It is a depressing reality that, when it comes to the rights of pregnant woman and new mothers in the workplace, we are still living in the dark ages.
“We should all know very well that it is against the law not to appoint a woman because she is pregnant or might become pregnant. Yet we also know that women routinely get asked questions around family planning in interviews.”
As a 24-year-old woman, I have no immediate plans to have children but will want to have them one day in the (very distant) future. I have not yet experienced a potential employer asking me about my maternity status and I hope I never am asked.
But many women experience maternity discrimination every day. Potential employers are turning highly educated and over-qualified women away on the simple basis that they want a family in the future, or that they are currently juggling their burgeoning career with motherhood.
Women should never have to choose between having a successful career or having a family.
I’m lucky that I love what I do and will want to continue to grow as a writer and step up the career ladder even when I do have a family. It saddens me that the simple fact that I want to have kids could hinder my chances of reaching where I want to be career-wise.
Websites like Pregnant Then Screwed are filled with stories of women who have been wronged by their employers. Like the woman who said her male maternity cover was being paid 60 per cent more than her for doing the same job, or the woman who was told she would no longer be eligible for a promotion after returning to work or the woman who was made redundant just after telling her employers she was pregnant.
It’s not like women become inept as soon as we have children. Yes, our full attention will no longer be on work. We may be tired from sleepless nights, have to leave at 5pm on the dot to get home to our kids – and this is because our whole lives will no longer revolve around work. And that’s okay. We will change and adapt and we need our employers to change and adapt with us.
While the research was solely based on women, we can assume that men are not being asked whether they plan on becoming a father or if they have small kids at home during a job interview. They too will have sleepless nights and need to leave on time – yet being a father doesn’t seem to hold the same workplace discrimination as being a mother does.
Women are being denied jobs, and being let go due to pregnancy and motherhood and it’s not okay. A job should be awarded on the basis of merit, not on your child-bearing status.