Two-thirds of those questioned by the Institute of Directors said that recent compensation awards to women, including cases brought against the Ministry of Defence for discrimination, had affected employers' views.
More than half of the 200 IoD female members surveyed said women's employment prospects had been hindered by extended rights of maternity leave and pay.
Dr Ann Robinson, head of the IoD's policy unit, said the findings revealed a 'backlash factor' among directors. They were 'surprising', she said, and revealed concern about a group of workers being 'different and more expensive' to employ and that some employers were 'chary' of employing women of child-bearing age.
The institute, which supported the Government's opt-out from extended paternity leave, said of the survey: 'A clear majority of female directors believe that both extended maternity rights and pay, and in particular the recent compensation awards to women sacked after becoming pregnant, have damaged women's prospects.'
The potential cost to employers of hiring women was perceived to have increased 'fairly significantly' as a result of the developments.
Donna Covey, a national officer of the GMB general union, reacted angrily to the IoD report.
'There may well be costs to employers if they break the law by refusing maternity rights, but that is just tough luck,' she said.
'The costs to a few employers have to be counted against the rights and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of women workers.'Reuse content