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A number of high profile employers have joined an equality initiative aiming to put an end to pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace, which currently affects around 390,000 women each year.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission launched the initiative 'Working Forward - supporting pregnancy and maternity rights' in response to recent research which revealed a major discrepancy between the views of employers and female staff surrounding pregnancy and maternity. Research found that, while 84% of British businesses said they supported pregnant women and that those on maternity leave, 77% of mothers reported that they had had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience at work.
Barclays, Royal Mail and John Lewis Partnership are among the list of employers that have already signed the pledge to make workplaces 'the best they can be for pregnant women and new mothers'. It is intended that the founding members will lead by example and demonstrate to other employers how to attract, develop and retain women at work. The members will also encourage businesses in their supply chain to sign up to the alliance.
There still remains a challenge for employers to ensure that employees who have taken time off to have a family are fully reintegrated into the workplace. Employers should be alive to the potential risk of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace, and take steps to mitigate this risk where possible.
Some preventative measures might include:
Policies: ensuring that there are appropriate equal opportunities and maternity policies in place which are up to date and set out what is expected of employers and employees respectively;
Training: ensuring that all staff receive adequate training on equal opportunities to limit exposure to claims as far as possible; and
Flexible working: consider offering flexible working practices which can help to encourage new mothers to return to work.