While on maternity leave, I once stopped Zoe Williams (columnist with the Guardian) in the street and enthusiastically praised her work. She was very gracious and at the end of our conversation, she made a fuss of my baby and asked her name; whereupon I was forced to mumble "er…Zoe" and then scuttle away feeling like a stalker.
She makes the point that Maternity Discrimination is not just a womens' issue given that it affects family income, it affects all of us. She also reports that the last statistics available show that half of pregnant women perceived Discrimination against them; yet only a small number pursued claims to tribunal.
The situation is troubling but not hopeless. I agree with Zoe that the only true solutions will come when we regard this issue as more than a women’s issue. A bit of careful practical planning pays off in the meantime.
First, if you are not already a union member, join a union. They are the experts in workplace based resolution.
Second, know your legal rights and be pro-active. For information download our Employment Law Factsheets. Make proposals about Flexible Working on return and ask to consult on them informally before making a formal request. You can also gently remind your employer that you have the right to be involved in any restructures or consultations which occur while you are off; and that you have the right to see any internal promotional opportunities that others have. Try to agree with your employer when you’re keeping in touch days will be and how they will be used.
Third, take legal advice early if there is a problem. Strict time limits apply to Maternity/pregnancy claims. Also, when the baby is born, you will have other things to keep you awake at night.
Finally - enjoy your baby. If you have difficulty with work, try to regard it as a business issue, rather than a personal one.
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