Young pregnant women are being forced out of their jobs – and their careers will suffer for a lifetime

Women are still, in 2016, the primary caregiver for children. It is devastating to see that young mothers are victimised, exploited and prevented from succeeding by our male-centric, capitalist culture

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The Independent Online

As all women understand, revealing the fact that you are pregnant to your employer can be one of the most nerve-racking moments in your career – and for good reason. We know that the moment women become pregnant, the chance of them being discriminated against rockets. And if you are a young mother, the risk is even higher.

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), six times as many women aged under 25 are sacked after telling their employer they were pregnant. Young women were also more likely to be discouraged from attending antenatal appointments, given unsuitable workloads or to suffer from work-related stress during their pregnancy.

Twice as many mothers under the age of 25 (15 per cent) report feeling under pressure to hand in their notice on becoming pregnant. Around 6 per cent of under-25s said they were dismissed after informing their employer of their pregnancy, compared with an average of just 1 per cent for all pregnant women at work. It is, of course, illegal to dismiss a woman from her job simply for being pregnant or because she suffers from pregnancy-related sickness.

I have been gathering women’s stories for our archive, Pregnant Then Screwed, which has been documenting the experiences of women enduring pregnancy and maternity discrimination for over a year. More than 500 stories tell the unhappy truth about what happens to pregnant women at work.

Pregnancy can have a devastating effect on a young woman’s chances of a successful career, and the repercussions of pregnancy and maternity discrimination are felt for a lifetime.

While mothers in their thirties may have had the opportunity to carve out a place for themselves within their sector, young mothers are at the beginning of their career – and having a child can put the brakes on any chance of progression.

Christina Franks, who blogs under the name Reprobate Mum, had her first child at the age of 25. She told us: ‘’As the only mother in a young organisation, I found it hard to keep up with the company's 'work hard, play hard' culture. Leaving on time was frowned upon. Not joining in with after work activities, often involving copious amounts of booze saw me sidelined.

"The fact I showed up for work early, often having battled tantrums, a night waking and breakfast on the floor before a five-mile cycle to save on tube fares, was never taken into account. Exhausted by midday, I sometimes took a proper lunch hour, and was verbally criticised [for doing so].

“Criticism was solicited from co-workers who had no idea about the daily challenges I faced. Thin allegations about my competency were brought and a disciplinary process began, as my mental health began to unravel to the extent I'd often be in tears at my desk."

This is not an unusual story.

Young mums have to balance the high cost of childcare with low wages, their personal responsibilities as a mother with their employers expectation that they can work long hours and network at evening social events. Many young mums might be doing unpaid work experience to develop their CV, which means they won’t qualify for statutory maternity pay.

Improving attitudes towards pregnant women and mothers will require a cultural and social shift. We need to start valuing care as much as we value professional achievements. Both are equally crucial to a well-functioning society.

Women are still, in 2015, the primary caregiver for children. It is heart breaking, devastating, to see that young mothers are victimised, exploited and prevented from succeeding by our male-centric, capitalist culture.

Reducing discrimination and making employment work for mothers is good for society, good for productivity, good for companies and good for families.

These young women are full of potential, they have learned new skills from motherhood that if recognised and mobilised could be a huge asset to any organisation. Instead, as a culture, we appear to be OK with bullying, harassing and victimising young women when they are at their most vulnerable, crushing their confidence and killing any chance of a career.

As the EHRC launches its digital campaign, #powertothebump, to help young and new mothers know their rights at work, we want to help them to have the confidence to stand up for what they deserve. Telling their story means women can raise awareness so we can demand recognition, respect and change.

When a woman discovers she is pregnant, the most important thing she can do is know her rights, seek advice and protect herself. No woman is alone – however her boss makes her feel.

Joeli Brearley is the founder of Pregnant Then Screwed

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