Majority of women feel taking maternity leave will harm their career, says survey

Almost two thirds of women feel that taking maternity leave will have a negative effect on their career prospects at their current workplace, according to a survey by law firm Michael Lewin.

The survey of over 200 women found high levels of perceived inequality and discrimination. Just under half of all respondents said they felt they are treated equally and nearly half felt as though men generally progressed more quickly in their places of work.

Although the equality act states that women should be paid equally for doing the same job as men, almost half those surveyed didn’t know whether men and women received the same salary for the same job.

Over a third of all participants said they had been discriminated against because of their gender. One said: “In my previous role I took on responsibility way out of my job role but had to fight for years for change of job title and pay. My confidence was very low by the time I left. My male boss would make comments about my appearance and weight and when I discussed wanted to do a PhD with a colleague he butted in to tell me I could only do ‘a PhD in shopping’.”

Another said: “I had more responsibility and more staff than a male colleague, but the male colleague was paid c £10k per annum more than me. When I questioned why this was I was told that as we were the same grade the pay difference “was acceptable”.”

Others mentioned being bullied after returning from maternity leave.

Asked how gender equality in the workplace could be improved, one woman said: “I would like men to be held to a higher standard of behaviour than they presently are. I find that they are awarded when they appear to work hard (in my workplace), whereas we women who work hard consistently do not get the praise. They are often more visible than us as well.”

Others called for mandatory and transparent equal pay audits at regular intervals; female mentoring and bullying and harassment networks so women can be supported and issues escalated where necessary; gender equality training for senior management; and better education at school on equality issues, starting at primary level.  One woman stated: “It’s a cultural problem, so workplaces should have proper equality and diversity training, not just pay lip service to it.”

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