Discrimination “systemic and pervasive” in workplace

Despite moves to address gender equality in the workplace, discrimination against mothers and new parents during pregnancy, parental leave and return to work periods remains a very real issue in Australian businesses.

Speaking at a recent CEDA Women and Leadership event in Sydney, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick said discrimination is, and remains, “systemic and pervasive” in many Australian businesses.

Quoting figures from quantitative research carried out for the Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review, Broderick revealed that one in two women reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace at some point while pregnant, on parental leave or once they had returned to work.

As a result, the impact on women in the workplace is staggering, she revealed, with 32 per cent of mothers who experienced discrimination choosing to look for another job or resigning while 22 per cent left the labour market entirely. In addition, one in five mothers said they were either restructured, dismissed or their contract was not renewed during this period.

“Alarmingly, this is very deeply hidden,” she added. “Ninety one per cent of mothers who experienced this issue did not make any formal complaint.”

Broderick added that the issue of discrimination also extends to new fathers, with 27 per cent experiencing discrimination in the workplace as a result of taking paid parental leave and called on employers, unions and community sector groups to work collaboratively with one another to address this ongoing concern.

“Gender equality is not just women’s business, it is all our business. Discrimination has a cost to everyone. We can have the best paid parental scheme system in the world and a childcare system that delivers, but if pregnant women and new parents are not welcome in the workplaces of Australia, then we will never fix the issue of women’s workforce participation,” she said.