Half of Australian women have experienced discrimination in the workplace during their pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work and it’s affecting their mental health and self confidence, a review from the Australian Human Rights Commission has revealed.
The review, Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review, included an Australia-wide nation consultation process and two national surveys, which Australia is one of the few countries to have undertaken.
“The major conclusion we can draw from this data, is that discrimination has a cost – to women, their families, to business and to the Australian economy and society as a whole,” Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said.
The prevalence data comes from the first nationally representative survey of women’s perceived experiences of discrimination in the workplace as a result of their pregnancy, request for or taking of parental leave, and their return to work following parental leave.
It also includes data from a survey of the experiences of fathers and partners that have taken time off work to care for their child under the “Dad and Partner Pay” scheme. The review found that one in two women in Australia reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace during their pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work.
While prevalent at all stages, discrimination was more commonly reported as occurring upon return to work (35 per cent) followed by when requesting or on parental leave (32 per cent), and during pregnancy (27 per cent).
For fathers and partners, despite taking very short periods of parental leave, the review demonstrated that more than a quarter (27 per cent) of the father and partner respondents reported experiencing discrimination during parental leave or when they returned to work.
“The Review also found that discrimination takes many different forms ranging from negative attitudes and comments through to dismissal and that many women experience multiple forms of discrimination,” Broderick said.“Commonly reported types of discrimination women experienced during pregnancy, or when on parental leave, included reductions in salary, missing out on training, professional development and promotional opportunities.“The most common types of discrimination women reported experiencing on returning to work after parental leave included negative comments about breastfeeding or working part-time or flexibly and being denied requests to work flexibly.”
As a result of this discrimination, the review revealed that the vast majority of mothers (84 per cent) reported a significant negative impact related to mental health (including stress, and a negative impact on their confidence and self-esteem), physical health, career and job opportunities, financial stability and their families.
It also showed that it had a negative impact on women’s workforce participation with high numbers of women having to leave the workforce or change their employer. Broderick said employers and business peaks found managing these issues challenging. During the consultations, she found many were putting dynamic and leading strategies in place to overcome the challenges and support their employees.
This article first appeared on Pro Bono on 8 April, 2014.