Empowering young women in the workplace

by Karen Jochelson

Published: 16 May 2016

Today we launch a new campaign to help empower young women to speak out against pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

This follows research which has shown young mothers are significantly more likely than older mothers to experience pregnancy and maternity discrimination. This includes twice as many mothers under 25 (15%) reported feeling under pressure to hand their notice in on becoming pregnant (7% average) and; a quarter of mothers under 25 (25%) reported experiencing a negative impact on their health and stress levels (15% average).

The campaign was developed and created with help from Young Women’s Trust and Royal College of Midwives and tested with young mums. It is being supported by the TUC, Maternity Action, Fawcett Society and a range of other organisations.

It is based on the insight and feedback that shows young women had lower awareness of their rights, were typically in less stable employment situations and were worried or lacked confidence to talk to their manager about things that were troubling them – and so felt under pressure to hand in their notice or leave their job rather than discuss issues that were worrying them.

While employers and the government have the responsibility for ensuring safe and fair workplaces, we wanted to make sure young mothers felt that there was support out there for them and that they had knowledge about their rights and how to assert them.

The campaign provides practical information to support young women in how to manage conversations with their employers and exercise their rights such as taking paid time off for antenatal appointments. In addition, where employers fall foul of the law and don’t meet their responsibilities, it provides advice on how women can raise complaints and where they can go to get legal advice and redress.

It is about empowering young women to take control of their experience at work and speak out against discrimination by understanding their rights.  However it is not just young women who can make a difference. Employers play a crucial role too.

Today’s campaign is one part of our wider comprehensive strategy to address pregnancy discrimination at work.

We recently published recommendations to Government pressing them to do more to ensure access to justice for women including making it easier to take cases to tribunal courts where businesses fall short of their responsibilities to their employees. In addition, we ask Government to take the steps that are needed to stop employers asking women at job interviews about their plans to have children and whether they are pregnant.

From our research, we know that many businesses value the contribution of their female employees, and that they understand that it makes business sense to retain talented women. Tackling pregnancy discrimination is about fairness but retaining talent and taking a long-term view also helps the bottom line.

But we also know that there are a significant minority of businesses who are not meeting their responsibilities, and a wide variation in practice across industries and sectors.

That is why we will also be launching another campaign to ensure employers understand their responsibilities under the law and likely consequences if they break the law. It will also showcase exemplar businesses who have benefitted from progressive policies and demonstrate innovative ways of managing pregnancy and maternity at work to the benefit of employers and employees.

To address complex issues means communicating and working with many different audiences of employers and employees so that they understand their rights and responsibilities at work.  We will show how early and clear communication can benefit everyone. Today’s campaign will help support and empower young women – but they are one part of a bigger picture. Our wider work will underline to both Government and business that they can play a leading role in tackling this outdated and unacceptable form of discrimination by changing the culture within organisations.