Fresh from celebrating mums’ contributions to our lives this weekend, it’s rather easy to forget that motherhood is not all roses. A poll commissioned by law firm Slater & Gordon has revealed that at the end of their maternity leave, far from being greeted by a card and some chocolates, many professional women should consider themselves lucky if they even have a job to which they can return.
Shockingly, the survey of new mothers returning to work revealed that more than one in seven didn’t have a job to return to after taking maternity leave; over a tenth of women had been replaced by their maternity cover. For those that were able to return to their previous role, 45% felt that the position was somehow diminished, equivalent to a demotion, featuring diminished responsibilities or a reduction in hours. At a period of their lives when they required job security more than ever, the respondents found that their employment prospects were significantly less sturdy than before they had embarked on maternity leave.
These employment changes can have very significant ramifications. Nearly one in five new mothers found their finances were damaged by the changes to their role and 15% said that the changes caused them to be overlooked for career advancement. Approximately a third of mothers felt that they no longer fitted in at their place of work. But more disturbingly, more than a tenth of those affected suffered physical or mental ill health as a result and 4% felt the changes contributed to the breakdown of their relationship with their child’s father. Not a particularly positive picture to say the least.
Whilst these findings seem to suggest there is still a huge amount of discrimination against professional women taking maternity leave, Slater & Gordon are keen to stress that there are places to turn and that the law is there to protect women against maternity discrimination. “Be reassured that these legal protections are there – and they are strong,” comments Samantha Mangwana, an employment lawyer at the firm. “The law is on your side.”