Discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, age, race etc is illegal. Employers and recruitment agencies are both covered by this legislation. By extension, it’s illegal for employers and recruitment agencies to discriminate against candidates who may become pregnant at some stage in the future or who have childcare responsibilities.
The problem is proving that you have faced discrimination. Employers may just discount women or prefer a male candidate and you would never know unless they make certain comments during the recruitment process. There are, however, certain interview questions that would provide evidence of discrimination. These include questions about your childcare plans, questions about whether you have or plan to have children or more children and so forth. These questions are not connected to your ability to do the job.
It can be hard to know how to respond to such questions, particularly if they come out of the blue. The best way is to block the question and state in a business-like manner that this does not have anything to do with the job you are being interviewed for and proceed to talk about the skills you have for the role. If the questions persist, however, you may have to point out that this line of questioning is illegal.
It is a good idea to write down what you have been asked and to report your concerns to the recruiter’s seniors. You could also investigate taking a case to an employment tribunal if you feel that you have good evidence that you didn’t get the job because you are female.
Sometimes employers employ a subtle line of questioning, for instance, around why you want part-time hours. You do not have to go into detail about this – you can just say that the hours are right for you – and it is not advisable to say you applied for a job purely because it is part time. You should focus instead on why the job is right for you skills-wise and what you can bring to the table. In some of these cases, it will depend on the circumstances of the interview so you will need to feel your way.