Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Let’s Stop the Lies and Get Honest about Returning to Work

So as you may have read recently (if not go ahead)  I shared some examples of the types of pompous, ridiculous and sheer discriminatory statements women have experienced recently on both sides of the Tasman.

But at the risk of that post sounding like the wails of an unreasonable woman the release of the Australian Human Rights Commission has released its Headline Prevalence Data for its National Review, entitled Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review.  And the news is unfortunately as I had already previously described. I should have probably stopped at reading the report but I went and read a few submissions as well which wasn’t the ideal way to change my mood on an otherwise good day in the office.

In the Mothers’ Survey that was carried out they found:

(a) Prevalence of discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace against mothers is pervasive.

  • One in two (49%) mothers[i] reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace at some point during pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work.[ii]
  • Discrimination occurs at all stages:
  1. A quarter (27%) of mothers reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace during pregnancy.
  2. Almost a third (32%) of mothers reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace when they requested or took parental leave.
  3. More than a third (35%) reported experiencing discrimination when returning to work after parental leave (34% related to family responsibilities and 8% related to breast-feeding or expressing milk).

Figure 1 - Prevalence of discrimination in the workplace during pregnancy, parental leave and return to work

[i] ‘Mothers’ refers to women aged 18-49 years and in the workforce as an employee at some time during their pregnancy (or while adopting a child) with a child of approximately 2 years of age.

[ii] An overall incidence of the level of workforce discrimination was calculated as the total number of individuals who were treated unfairly or disadvantaged at least once either during their pregnancy, when requesting or on parental leave, or when returning to work following parental leave.


Of the 36% of mothers that reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace when returning to work after parental leave:

  • Nearly two thirds (63%) reported receiving negative attitudes or comments from colleagues or managers/employers.
  • Half (50%) reported discrimination when they requested flexible work arrangements.
  • Two in five (38%) reported discrimination related to pay, conditions and duties.

And so this report goes on…I am holding on to my indignation but now I am offering of you some empirical evidence to support it. It doesn’t end there, the study has confirmed that fathers that elect to take parental leave have also been discriminated against.

So after two lengthy discussions today with women I respect (one with no children and the other with three preschool aged) I have decided to make a commitment to speak up about what I am experiencing or have experienced on my own journey. Why? Because sugar-coating what goes on has done nothing but continue this myth about egalitarian workplaces, meritocracy and supports the continued discrimination of families in the workplace (I use that term intentionally as the whole family is impacted). We owe it to our children to expose this discrimination for what it is. If this were an abusive relationship (which it is) you are enabling the abuse to continue and protecting the abuser from ever being made accountable.

And a special request on my part for the fellas – if you are the lucky party who has been able to return to work following the arrival of a child,  continue on your career path unobstructed but your partner hasn’t then I beg you to speak up. How long would you condone the negative impact on your household earning potential or deny your partner’s right to career progression? Your silence is as much to blame as ours.


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Hey thanks!