#PowertotheBump unites young mothers in fight against pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work

Published: 17 May 2016

Research shows young mothers are significantly more likely to experience pregnancy and maternity discrimination, with six times as many under 25 year olds than average reporting being dismissed from their jobs after they tell their employer they are pregnant.

Today the Equality and Human Rights Commission is launching #PowertotheBump, a digital campaign to help young expectant and new mothers know their rights at work and have the confidence to stand up for them.

The Commission developed the project drawing on the expertise of partners including The Young Women’s Trust, Fawcett Society, Maternity Action, The Royal College of Midwives and the TUC. 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 than raise issues.

Using social media communities, #PowertotheBump will bring together young mothers to share their experiences and knowledge so they are able to assert their rights and challenge any poor treatment which might be discriminatory, and have an impact on themselves and their baby.

The campaign features a new video starring vlogger mums Katie Ellison, Jess Avery, Charlotte Louise Taylor and Emily Norris. They share the campaign’s top tips and their own experiences to encourage young mothers to take the right steps to protect themselves at work during pregnancy and to encourage open discussion and planning with their managers. This video will be hosted on the popular parenting You Tube site Channel Mum from 4pm today.

The campaign will include a programme of widespread digital activity including blogs from young mothers, twitter chats with parenting groups and an online quiz for mums to promote the help and advice available for young mothers on the #PowertotheBump web pages.

The #PowertotheBump top tips for young mothers are:

  1. Talk to your boss early
  2. Use your right to  reasonable time off for antenatal appointments
  3. Plan your maternity leave early
  4. Always talk to your employer about health and safety to make sure your work environment is risk and stress free
  5. Reduce your stress

The Commission’s landmark research, recently published in partnership with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, reveals that young mothers are more likely than other mothers of all ages to have negative experiences.

The research found:

  • Six times as many mothers under 25 (6%) reported that they were dismissed at some point between informing their employer of their pregnancy and participating in the survey (1% average among mothers of all ages).
  • Twice as many mothers under 25 (15%) reported feeling under pressure to hand their notice in on becoming pregnant (7% average).
  • 1 in 10 mothers under 25 (10%) reported they left their employers as a result of health and safety risks not being resolved (4% average).
  • A quarter of mothers under 25 (25%) reported experiencing a negative impact on their health and stress levels (15% average).

Caroline Waters, Deputy Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

"Young working mothers are feeling the brunt of pregnancy and maternity discrimination with more than any other age group being forced out of their jobs, facing harassment and experiencing issues with their health as a result. Often these women aren’t established in their careers, with junior or unstable roles, low paid and reliant on their wage to support themselves and their babies.

"We want young women to use #PowertotheBump to speak up against this unfairness. They need the knowledge and confidence to raise issues with their employers so they can focus on their health and wellbeing, rather than the negative impacts of this discrimination.

"We cannot continue to allow these young women to be unfairly held back in the starting blocks of their working lives when they could have the potential to achieve greatness."

Carole Easton, Chief Executive of Young Women’s Trust, said:

"Sadly it is not surprising that young women are those who face the greatest discrimination. Through our own work with young women who are struggling to live on low or no pay, we know many young mothers are afraid of speaking out about discrimination for fear of losing their job, and in too many cases are never made aware of their employment rights to start with. 

"The scale of the issue is however worrying. Although some employers will do better than others, we are no longer talking about isolated instances but an endemic problem that affects the health and long term prospects of women in most workplaces.

"We hope that the #PowertotheBump campaign helps young women understand their rights and give them the confidence to share their experiences and speak out against discrimination."

Amy Leversidge Employment Relations Advisor at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: 

"It’s very worrying that the cases of young women being denied time off to attend antenatal care are increasing. Women who miss antenatal appointments miss out on essential screening tests and valuable advice around smoking and nutrition.

"Discrimination at work can cause stress, anxiety and depression which can potentially have an impact on the health of the woman and her baby.

"We hope that this innovative campaign, #PowertotheBump, will increase awareness surrounding pregnancy discrimination in the workplace and give young working women the confidence to speak up if they have been treated in an unjust manner."

Rosalind Bragg, Director of Maternity Action, said:

"Many young women calling our advice line face serious problems when they tell their employers that they are pregnant. They face a sudden drop in the number of shifts they are offered, unsafe working conditions, harassment and unfair dismissal.

"Pregnant women and new mothers have the right to a safe workplace which is free from discrimination. It is important that young women are supported to know their maternity rights and to take action when their employer breaks the law."

#PowertotheBump is one element of the Commission’s wider comprehensive strategy to address pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work. It includes the recently published recommendations to Government that calls for them to do more to ensure women have access to justice and asks them to take the steps that are needed to stop employers asking women about their plans to have children and pregnancy in job interviews. In addition we’re working with businesses on an upcoming campaign which will be launched later this year.

Notes to editors

For more information on the #PowertotheBump campaign visit: www.equalityhumanrights.com/powertothebump

To watch the #PowertotheBump video please visit: http://www.channelmum.com/

For more press information and interviews contact the Commission’s media office on 0161 829 8102, out of office hours 07767 272 818.

#PowertotheBump tips in full

  1. Talk to your boss
    It is good to have early conversations with your line manager.
     
  2. Attend your antenatal appointments
    You are entitled to take reasonable paid time off during working hours for antenatal care. You should be given the time to travel to the appointment or class.
     
  3. Plan your maternity leave
    The most important thing is to keep talking with work, tell them your wishes and get it all agreed in writing so you feel in control. You need to tell work your maternity leave plans around the 6-month mark - that’s 15 weeks before the baby is due.
     
  4. Talk about health and safety risks
    Always talk to work about any risks that are worrying you. Your employer has a duty to look after the health and safety of everyone at work. You can ask to see a copy of the general risk assessment to make sure you’re comfortable and safe and that any risks are resolved.
     
  5. Reduce your stress
    Don’t cause yourself additional stress. You shouldn’t experience a negative impact on your health and stress levels, be given an unsuitable workload or be treated unfavourably and feel less valued.

About the research

The Equality and Human Rights Commission commissioned the research in partnership with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The research company IFF Research Ltd interviewed 3,254 mothers with a child under 2 years old and 3,034 workplaces across the UK in the largest ever survey of its kind.

Discrimination at work against pregnant women and those on maternity leave is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

It is unlawful for an employer to treat a woman unfavourably because she is pregnant, is ill because of her pregnancy, is on maternity leave, has taken maternity leave or has tried or intends to take maternity leave.

Further research findings about young mothers

Effects on health

  • 1 in 10 mothers under 25 (10%) reported they left their employers as a result of risks not being resolved. (4% average)
  • A quarter of mothers under 25 (25%) reported experiencing a negative impact on their health and stress levels. (15% average)
  • 15% of mothers under 25 were discouraged from attending antenatal appointments. (10% average)
  • 21% of mothers under 25 reported being given unsuitable workloads during pregnancy. (15% average)
  • 20% of mothers under 25 reported being encouraged to take time off or get signed off early. (14% average)

Risk of losing job

  • Six times as many mothers under 25 reported that they were dismissed at some point between informing their employer of their pregnancy and participating in the survey. (6% vs 1% average)
  • 13% of mothers under 25 reported being so poorly treated that they felt they had to leave their work. The frequency of mothers reporting this decreased with age: 30-34 (6%), 35-39 (6%) and over 40 (5%).
  • Twice as many mothers under 25 (15%) reported feeling under pressure to hand their notice in on becoming pregnant. (7% average)

Examples of discrimination include:

  • making a woman redundant because she is pregnant, or on maternity leave
  • not offering the same training or promotion opportunities to a woman because she is pregnant or on maternity leave
  • dismissing a woman because of pregnancy-related sickness
  • dismissing a woman on maternity leave shortly before she is due to return to work (or after she returns) and keeping on the person covering her maternity leave instead, and
  • refusing a pregnant employee reasonable time off for ante-natal appointments.

Case studies of young mothers from the research

Importance of talking about risks

'There was no risk assessment done or anything like that. I was still required to move things that I probably shouldn’t have moved or lifted or whatever. I just kind of got on with it. I know I was stupid…I was sent to another store to help out to run that store because one of the managers was off. I actually ended up doing too much [lifting] and ended up having a trip to the hospital because I really thought something was wrong.'

Mother who said she had no risk assessment, retail supervisor, earning £10,000–£19,999 a year, aged 20-24

Importance of talking to your boss

'A colleague suggested I should get a risk assessment, but [line manager] was always in her office and you didn’t want to go and speak to her because her body language…she always seemed busy...I was thinking if I said anything or started saying my rights again and as it was a temporary contract, I would get fired, so I thought I’ll leave it because there is not a lot [of time] I have left anyway and I will just not come back here...If you know your employer isn’t supportive you will just hide and go to work.'

Mother who did not raise health and safety concerns, retail sales consultant, earning £10,000-£19,999 a year, aged 20-24

Positive conversations with employer

'One lady was very prone to morning sickness, so it meant getting going in the morning was an issue. The issue was discussed between the individual and the line manager…..It was agreed that they had a bit more flexibility on their start time and if they were in in the afternoon and not feeling well they can let the line manager know and manage the flexitime accordingly.'

Large employer

Press contact details

For more press information contact the Commission's media office on:

0161 829 8102

07767 272 818 (out of hours)