Emma Reynolds: Time we consign pregnancy discrimination to the history books
Writing for the Express & Star, Wolverhampton North East MP Emma Reynolds explains why she is backing the Working Forward campaign to make workplaces the best they can be for pregnant women and new parents
"This time last year I was pregnant and my husband and I were eagerly awaiting the birth of our baby boy a few weeks later.
Fortunately, I didn’t experience pregnancy discrimination at work during that time.
Nor was I asked about my plans for having a family at previous general elections.
My colleagues in Parliament and Wolverhampton were supportive.
MPs are self-employed so there is more flexibility than in other professions, although late night votes, the sheer range of issues we deal with and travelling up and down the country makes the role tiring and physically demanding.
We weren’t expecting another election until 2020 but notice of my job interview with the electorate came only four days after
Theo was born. The vast majority of my constituents were hugely supportive of me and my family.
Thankfully, I can count on one hand those who told me that I should stand down because I now had a young child.
At the start of the general election campaign, it looked like Theresa May’s electoral gamble would pay off and she would secure a bigger majority in Parliament.
In the end, things turned out differently but we didn’t know that at the time. I was worried about losing my seat because it is a huge privilege to be an MP: to have the ability to help local people, represent their concerns and push for changes at a national level.
I have to admit that my anxiety about losing my job was heightened because I had a newborn.
How would I secure alternative employment and would I would be discriminated against as a new mum? Would I be out of work for some time? How would I balance looking for work and looking after Theo?
These feelings came flooding back when I recently read the shocking findings of an Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) poll.
The survey found that four in ten employers considered that pregnancy puts 'an unnecessary cost burden' on the workplace.
Around a third believe new mothers in work are 'generally less interested in career progression' compared with other employees.
One in three thought that during the recruitment process it was acceptable to ask a woman about her plans to have children and nearly half thought it was reasonable to ask a woman if she had small children.
These outdated attitudes reflect the fact that there are still too few women in senior management and boardrooms.
There are more FTSE 100 chief executives called 'David' than there are women.
The EHRC’s Chief Executive rightly accused many employers of 'living in the dark ages'.
It has been illegal to ask these questions of women at job interviews for decades.
But it is clear that equality legislation is simply being ignored.
It seems that progress is also being rolled back with Parliament’s cross party women and equalities committee recently finding that pregnant women and mothers report more discrimination and poor treatment than they did a decade ago.
The government must take urgent action to change the attitudes and behaviour of employers and do more to uphold and enforce the law.
The majority of men and women in work become parents during their working lives.
There is no evidence that new dads are being discriminated against.
Discrimination is not only illegal and unfair, but it risks wasting the potential of half of the population.
Moreover, it’s not just women who are held back in the workplace when outdated, discriminatory views on pregnancy persist, we are all held back as a society.
The evidence is clear that businesses which value their women employees and promote them are more profitable than those which don’t.
Moreover, it is short-sighted to see people raising a family as a burden. Bluntly, if people stopped having children we wouldn’t be able to fund pensions and elderly care in the future.
I am joining the EHRC and others who are calling on employers to change their attitudes and urge them to sign up to the Working Forward nationwide campaign to make workplaces the best they can be for pregnant women and new parents.
I hope that businesses large and small heed this call so that we can consign pregnancy discrimination to the history books. New or expectant mums across the country deserve nothing less."