By Jasmine Stephens, Family Editor
Screwed. Katherine (not her real name) sat down in a meeting room on her first day in the office after having a baby and was astonished to see that her back to work interview was being conducted by the person who had been covering her maternity leave.
‘She sat down opposite me and slid a piece of paper over the table. At the top she had written her name next to the word “manager” and mine next to “employee”.
My manager had left before I’d gone on mat leave and I had been acting up to his position. He had even encouraged me to apply for his job when it was advertised, so I knew I was competent enough, but I was just back from a year off and my confidence was very low. I didn’t want to rock the boat and I basically felt intimidated by the situation so I said nothing. The Head of Department had obviously thought he could solve the “problem” of replacing my manager without having to go through the rigmarole of an official recruitment process and I was never given the chance to apply.’
Katherine was the victim of so called ‘soft discrimination’. Passed over for a promotion and usurped by her maternity cover, she didn’t complain to anyone and her case remains one of the thousands of examples of maternity discrimination that remain under the radar and unacknowledged.
Research indicates that 50, 000 women lose their jobs every year due to maternity discrimination and nobody knows just how many thousands more are treated prejudicially for being pregnant or taking parental leave. The problem has been compounded by the huge decrease in Employment Tribunals since the Conservative Party introduced fees for employees in 2013. Who has the energy or money for a potentially costly legal fight when they are heavily pregnant or a tired new parent?
Joeli Brearley was working as a freelancer when she lost her biggest contract immediately after announcing her pregnancy. She realised the law did nothing to protect her so she has taken a stand and set up pregnantthenscrewed.com, a website where women can share their stories of maternity discrimination. She hopes that by exposing just how endemic the problem is, she can help force a societal shift, give women the confidence to stand up against these injustices and make employers realise that prejudicial practices are not only unacceptable but counterproductive.
Katherine was ultimately so demoralised by her experience and the subsequent lack of development opportunities that she left her job a few years later. Through their shortsightedness, the company lost a well-qualified and experienced employee and she had her confidence crushed. ‘By the time I realised the consequences of what had happened, it was too late to do anything and my career had stalled at a critical point’. She will be adding her voice to the thousands of stories that have been uploaded to pregnantthenscrewed in the last couple of weeks with the hope that exposure of the issue can cause a positive societal change.