Research shows women cut maternity leave short in fear of losing job

13 August 2014


New research shows that six out of 10 mothers say their careers were “derailed” after becoming pregnant, and admitted they faced open discrimination in the workplace

Our thanks to the CIPD for this report:

Six out of 10 mothers say their careers were “derailed” after becoming pregnant, and admitted they faced open discrimination in the workplace, research from law firm Slater and Gordon has revealed. More than 60 per cent of survey respondents said they felt their boss had a negative perception of working mothers, which meant they were mistreated when they returned to work, and overlooked for career opportunities.

The research into the experiences of 2,003 mums in employment found that the majority of women felt they had to reprove themselves after returning from maternity leave. Women often found themselves being offered less senior roles (18 per cent), overlooked for promotion or opportunities (27 per cent) and even demoted (8 per cent) on returning to the workplace.The career path faced by new mothers has been branded “the mummy track” by equality campaigners, as many face being sidelined in the office.

"The term 'the mummy track' is well-known amongst those fighting maternity discrimination.  We hear troubling stories from mothers every day about how they were mistreated after returning from maternity leave and have found their careers derailed,” said Kiran Daurka, lawyer at Slater and Gordon. "The desire to keep their job means that often women feel they have to turn a blind eye and watch as their male peers get promoted to senior management,” she added.

According to the research, while the average mum took just under nine months off to have a baby, just under a third of women returned to work after three months. Thirty-nine per cent stated a fear of losing their job as the greatest reason to cut their maternity leave short and six in ten felt under pressure from their boss to return to work as soon as possible.

Julie McCarthy, head of policy at Working Families said her organisation was all too familiar with the plight of working mothers: “These findings reflect the experiences of callers to our helpline. We hear frequently from women who have been badly treated from the moment they told their employer of their pregnancy. The employers' attitude changes and women find themselves in an impossible situation,” she said. “Good employers will make sure that the workplace is safe for their pregnant employee, that the employee is not disadvantaged either during their pregnancy or their maternity leave and will have constructive and open conversations about their return to work. Women should be confident about their rights during this time but unfortunately the cost of bringing an Employment Tribunal often deters them from making a formal complaint,” she added.

In response to the growing number of discrimination claims being brought against British employers – more than 9,000 since 2007 – a £1m programme of independent research was launched at the end of 2013, to examine the extent of the prejudice in the UK and its effect on both families and the economy.

Joanna Lada-Walicki, employment partner at Barlow Robbins said that recent changes to the law could go some way to address the problem: “Shared parental leave is being introduced next year and it will be interesting to see how many men take extensive periods of parental leave,” she said. “However, the fact of this change as well as applications for flexible working for all (now in force) may change these stereotypical views.”