Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on why employers need to stop discriminating against women.
I’m always banging on about equality so I’ll start with some good equality news. There is no major difference between the attitudes of male and female bosses when it comes to discriminating against women in the workplace. What a great sign of progress, right? Wrong. It turns out that a quarter of male business leaders and 21 per cent of female business leaders have rejected female candidates for jobs because they “appeared” to be of maternity age.
Since women can have babies from their teens to their fifties, I’m wondering what qualifies as being “of maternity age”. Should we start wearing pigtails in our hair in an attempt to appear too young for babies? Actively recoil when someone in the office talks about their offspring? Tell people we want to be “childfree”, even if that is a lie, just to avoid discrimination?
There are, of course, laws against discriminating against women in this way but laws get broken and it can be very difficult to prove discrimination so people get away with it. The research, which comes from British-based business-to-consultant matchmaking platform Worksome, found that 44 per cent of business leaders did not hire a woman who was not pregnant in case she got pregnant in the future. Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) said they rejected women even though they were the right candidate for the job, while over a fifth (21 per cent) said they had rejected female candidates because their business “couldn’t handle” employees coming in and out of maternity leave. In addition, 8 per cent admitted openly asking female candidates if they plan to have any children in the future.
This is breaking the law in Britain, and it would also be against the law in Ireland. But even though it is illegal to take this into consideration, it still happens. What can we do about it? Very little, unfortunately. It can be incredibly hard to prove that an employer did not give you a job because they thought you might have a baby (unless, of course, they come right out and say it).
The responsibility here lies with employers. They need to introduce practices to ensure that their hiring and promotional policies are fair and nondiscriminatory. It makes better business sense and could help them avoid a costly legal battle at some point.
To achieve equality, workplaces should introduce an equal opportunities policy. Share it with staff, post it visibly around the workplace and educate employees about it through workshops. They should also pay attention to complaints and address them immediately so they will not escalate. It is also a good idea to introduce policies that remove unconscious bias from hiring decisions — for example, using software that removes a person’s name from their CV so you do not know what gender they are.
Passing up on the best person for the role because they might be off for six months maternity leave is a ridiculous business decision. Six months versus years of that person working to the best of their ability for the business — do the math and make the right decision financially and ethically.