With four of this year’s ‘35 Women Under 35’ (sponsored by Accenture) currently on maternity leave, the 2009 list highlights a discrimination issue that is still one of the biggest obstacles to women’s progression to senior levels of business. Last month saw the launch of The Alliance against Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace, a campaign motivated by the sharp rise in the number of women losing their job during maternity leave or pregnancy.
According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, about 30,000 women are estimated to lose their jobs as a result of pregnancy every year – and that figure is expected to rise because of the economic downturn. Says the AAPD: ‘It appears that some employers are using the recession as an excuse to break the law on discrimination,’ adding that: ‘the long-term consequences of job loss as a result of pregnancy and maternity leave jeopardise women’s financial security for their whole lives.’
MT cover star Samantha Mangwana is an employment solicitor (acting for individuals) at Russell Jones & Walker, and specialises in gender discrimination in the City. At the photo-shoot for the cover of our July issue, she told us about her typical cases: ‘Some examples of discrimination in the City include maternity discrimination, particularly for women returning from maternity leave who may find themselves sidelined on return – their best clients might have been given away; other people might have been earmarked for promotion.’
But in tough times, that’s not the worst of it, she says. ‘There seems to be an underlying assumption that their commitment is now in doubt... It’s an unfortunate reality that women on maternity leave are the first to be contemplated for redundancy at a time in their lives when they, and the future that they’re bringing with them, could not be more vulnerable.’
Happily Mangwana and her firm can help, but it’s apparent that small wins aren’t going to fix such a big problem on their own. According to The Fawcett Society, the leading national charity campaigning for gender equality (for whom Mangwana is a trustee), women working full-time are still paid on average 17% less an hour than men (or 36% less if they work part-time), while 96% of executive directors of the UK's top 100 companies are men. It seems there’s still a long way to go…
In today's bulletin:
Phoney war looms as O2 linked with T-Mobile bid
Judgement Day for Arnie as California suffers 'fiscal emergency'
Editor's blog: Goldman Sachs, the 'great vampire squid'
PM seeks Brownie points with hi-tech fund
'35 Under 35' in focus: Maternity matters