Employers ‘living in the dark ages’ when it comes to recruiting women

pregnant woman working at desk

UK employers are ‘living in the dark ages’ when it comes to recruiting women, according to new research.

Research conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), found that many businesses’ attitudes are decades behind the law.

The survey of 1,106 senior decision makers in business found that round a third of private sector employers agree that it is reasonable to ask women about their plans to have children in the future during recruitment.

The survey also revealed that 59 per cent of employers agreed that women should have to disclose whether they are pregnant during the recruitment process, and 46 per cent of employers agreed it is reasonable to ask women if they have young children.

Of those surveyed, 44 per cent of employers believed women should work for a company for at least a year before deciding to have children. The same number also agreed that women, who have had more than one pregnancy while in the same job, can be a ‘burden’ to their team.

Financially, four in ten employers agreed that pregnancy in the workplace puts ‘an unnecessary cost burden’ on the workplace.


Sarah, a mother of two young children, who was made redundant during maternity leave for her first child, explains:

“It’s sad to think that things like this are still happening.”

“I feel angry all the time that you can be a mother with young children and, unless you’re in a job that protects you, your whole world can come tumbling down – out of control.”

“It is essential for employers to be honest and ensure there is good communication between them and those on maternity leave so that pregnant women and new mothers are given the support they deserve.”


Speaking about the research, Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said, “It is a depressing reality that, when it comes to the rights of pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace, we are still living in the dark ages.”

“We should all know very well that it is against the law not to appoint a woman because she is pregnant or might become pregnant.”

“Yet we also know that women routinely get asked questions around family planning in interviews.”

“It’s clear that many employers need more support to better understand the basics of discrimination law and the rights of pregnant women and new mothers.”

The Commission is now calling on employers to eliminate these attitudes and pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace for good.

EHRC is urging companies to employ best practice and join the Working Forward campaign. The campaign asks businesses to commit to taking action on at least two of the three action areas in addition to leadership: employee confidence, supporting line managers and flexible working. It also provides employers with advice, guidance and resources to deliver on their pledges.

Alison Simpson
About the author

Alison is the Digital Content Editor for WeAreTheCity. She has a BA Honours degree in Journalism and History from the University of Portsmouth. She has previously worked in the marketing sector and in a copywriting role. Alison’s other passions and hobbies include writing, blogging and travelling.

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