Research released by the Australian Human Rights Commission has found that one in two women in Australia (49%) report experiencing discrimination in the workplace during their pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work.
The research found while prevalent at all stages, discrimination was more commonly reported as occurring upon return to work, with 35% of women indicating they had experienced discrimination at this time.
This was followed by 32% experiencing discrimination when requesting, or while on, parental leave and 27% experiencing discrimination during pregnancy.
The Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review surveyed 2000 mothers and 1000 fathers.
The Review 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.
“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,” said Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick. “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 vast majority of mothers (84%) 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 has a negative impact of women’s workforce participation with high numbers of women having to leave the workforce or change their employer.
“Despite taking very short periods of parental leave, over a quarter (27%) of the father and partner respondents reported experiencing discrimination during parental leave or when they returned to work,” Ms Broderick said. “The data reflects what I have heard about negative attitudes towards men taking parental leave or working flexibly to care for their children.”
Ms Broderick said Australia is one of the few countries to have undertaken such surveys.
“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,” she said.
Ms Broderick emphasized that 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.
AiGroup chief executive Innes Willox said the data is an important first step in understanding the views and experiences of pregnant employees and those who take parental leave.
Mr Willox said steps that should be taken to educate employers and employees about their rights and responsibilities, as well as best practice approaches.
The Prevalence Data is available at: www.humanrights.gov.au