Mothers still battle employer discrimination

CAROLINE KING
Last updated 14:54 15/02/2013
Annick Masselot

RESEARCHER: Annick Masselot.

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Women are still being discriminated against by employers despite comprehensive human rights legislation, a researcher says.

Research by University of Canterbury associate professor Annick Masselot questioned legal experts in the field of gender inequality and discrimination.

She found pregnant women, those with young children or of child-bearing age in "danger of becoming pregnant" were less likely to be considered for a job.

Masselot said this was largely because of "cultural stereotypes" where women were perceived as the main carers.

"Women are not merely discriminated against because they are pregnant and are about to take a period of parental leave, they are discriminated on the basis of the next 15 years of school holidays,'' she said.

"It is parenting which is at the heart of the discrimination and it is mostly women who suffer from it because it is women who perform the vast majority of the domestic care."

She said discrimination appeared to be less common in large enterprises and the public sector compared with small businesses and the private sector. 

Masselot said maternity rights may be creating a "barrier" in women's employability.

Employers generally argued that more entitlement to pregnancy and maternity rights led to more discrimination against women, while parents claimed that more protections and more rights were required for them to be able to access and retain paid employment.

''It has been suggested that the extent of pregnancy and maternity rights is directly linked to lower employment rates among women,'' she said. 

''However, there is no clear evidence to suggest that discrimination against women is triggered by the existence of rights or that women are discriminated against because rights are too burdensome for employers."

Advanced Personnel Services national operations manager Ryan Densem said the firm did not discriminate on what candidates were put forward to a client for a job.

However, he was aware pregnancy was a "big factor" his clients took into consideration when hiring, but they would never admit it.

"They'd never say, 'Sorry, we won't hire you because you're pregnant'. They'd say, 'Sorry, your background and experience isn't exactly what we're looking for'."

Densem said he had dealt with employers left "frustrated" from employing a pregnant women after investing time and money into the hiring process and training, only to have to go through the same process a few months later to cover their maternity leave.

He said he could understand their frustrations and believed employers should have the "freedom of choice" to employ whoever they felt best suited for the role, as well as the strategy and vision of their business.

Hypothetically, if there were two identical candidates and one of those could commit to a role for only six months because they were pregnant, that was going to have a bearing, Densem said.

He did not think women of a child-bearing age or those with young children faced discrimination when applying for jobs.

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