The recently released Australian Human Rights Commission report, Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review, revealed some disturbing news for women having children, and who wish to remain in, or return to the workforce after having a child.
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.
The levels of discrimination experienced by women requesting, or taking Paid Parental Leave (PPL), and their return to work following leave, are quite disturbing. And it is not only women, but their partners as well, who appear to have suffered disadvantage in those circumstances.
Commonly reported types of discrimination experienced included reductions in salary, missing out on training, personal development and promotional opportunities.
The survey was conducted from a pool of 2,000 Centrelink-registered mothers, and recorded their perceived levels of discrimination following the introduction of PPL in January 2011. The sample size is significantly large enough to give this dataset statistical weight. The sample size of fathers and partners was 1200, again from those registered at Centrelink as receiving two weeks’ pay.
As a result of this discrimination, 84% of those mothers who perceived discrimination reported some significant negative impact related to mental health, physical health, career and job opportunities, financial stability or to their families. This represents approximately 30% of all mothers surveyed.
The mental health of mothers of young children is a deeply concerning matter, and will certainly have ramifications that may affect other young women considering motherhood. That employers are not making suitable adjustments in the workplace is of course a matter of concern for BPW Australia.
Interestingly, more than a quarter (27%) of the father and partner respondents reported experiencing discrimination during parental leave.
The government may need to meet this challenge with greater education of employers in respect of PPL. Unconscious, or conscious bias is threatening the well-being of not only women having children, but the children themselves. The increase in women’s workforce participation is critical to increasing the GDP of Australia, and any obstacles to this must be taken seriously as an issue of national importance.
Director of Policy