Pregnancy discrimination continues to be a problem in the labour market

By 2020, society is significantly more sensitive to questions of equality and discrimination than ever before. However, the COVID-19 crisis has affected both employers and employees equally harshly. If we look at the realities of the labour market today, there are many issues to be resolved. One of them, according to the recent research by the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (College voor de Rechten van de Mens), is the discrimination of pregnant women in the job market. Four out ten women (43%) experience some kind of disadvantage around pregnancy or having small children.

This situation is not new. Adriana van Dooijeweert, the head of the Institute, states that these numbers are actually the same as in 2012 and 2016. This year, the organization interviewed 1150 women who gave birth in the last four years. They were asked to share their experiences with discrimination while searching for a job or at work. As it turned out, one in five women were turned down for jobs, and one in ten women were told directly that the reason was their pregnancy.

More than a third of all women who were supposed to get a contract renewal said that at the last moment changes were made because of their pregnancy, such as not getting a renewal or getting a temporary instead of permanent contract. Logically, the risk of losing their job was even higher for women with a temporary contract, compared to those with a permanent one. According to the study, as many as a quarter of all women experienced difficulties with promotion, salary raise, financial bonus or training.

Yet only 11 percent of all the interviewees actually reported the problem. And, in fact, only 34% percent were able to recognize a discriminatory situation in general. The study also discovered that one out of eight women feel that their career was hampered compared to that of their male colleagues. The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights points out the most prominent examples of pregnancy discrimination, such as direct questions about planned pregnancies during the job interview, or even a literal statement that the candidate will not be hired or get her contract prolonged because of her pregnancy.

In a reaction to the study, Wendy Ellens shared her experience with the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant. Having quit her job in the financial sector in September 2020, she decided to change careers and was planning to start a five-month training program in the IT sector. It was not an easy decision, considering her desire to be at least an equal contributor to the family budget. Luckily, she found an employer who was ready to hire her and finance her training. She was supposed to start her new job in February 2021. However, at the end of November, she was contacted by her future employer with a request to start her contract (and her training) not until September 2021, because in March Ellens is expecting her second child. The employer did not want to hire someone who could only start working a few months after the official start of the contract. For Ellens, this brought up a difficult choice of starting a complicated juridical process for discrimination (which, according to her, she would have lost anyway) or just accepting the offer. This means working for an employer who is treating people in a way that contradicts her principles and beliefs.

The conclusion of The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights is that our society still has to work on treating pregnant women equally in the labour market. In the report, the researchers encouraged the government and employers to create non-discriminatory labour conditions for everyone, to educate women about their rights, and implement more campaigns to achieve long-lasting positive effects. Mutually clear communication between new mother and the employer, as well as knowledge of the relevant laws and regulations from both sides, are key to creating a positive and fair work environment.

Written by Anastiasiia Myronenko