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Women returning to work after pregnancy report high levels of discrimination

Treatment of Returning Staff Under Scrutiny

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59.5% reported access to flexible work arrangements.
The report noted shifts in how returning staff are treated, like being ignored or excluded.
26.9% noted a lack of appropriate breastfeeding or expressing facilities upon their return.

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A recent report from the University of South Australia sheds light on the alarming levels of discrimination faced by women returning to work after pregnancy. Surveying over 1,200 Australian pregnant and parent workers, the study aimed to examine workplace conditions and discrimination experienced nationwide.

The findings reveal staggering rates of discrimination, with women returning to work post-pregnancy reporting the highest level at 91.8%. Pregnant women faced an 89% discrimination rate, while those on parental leave encountered an 84.7% discrimination rate.

Lead researcher Rachael Potter emphasised the significance of the report, especially in light of recent government initiatives such as extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks by 2026 and introducing superannuation payments on top of the Paid Parental Leave scheme.

Despite these advancements, Potter stressed that parental leave improvements alone are insufficient to address the pervasive discrimination, disadvantage, and bias faced by pregnant and parent workers.

The report highlights various challenges encountered by women returning to the workforce. While 59.5% reported access to flexible work arrangements, 43.9% faced negative remarks regarding part-time work or flexible hours, and 44.6% received inadequate information about their return-to-work entitlements. Furthermore, 26.9% noted a lack of appropriate breastfeeding or expressing facilities upon their return.

The impact on career progression was also significant, with many respondents reporting fewer opportunities for advancement (45.1%), returning to lower-status roles (34%), or experiencing alterations to their job tasks against their wishes (30.6%). Additionally, 23% received lower salaries, bonuses, or pay rises compared to their peers, and a concerning percentage faced threats or actual termination of employment.

The report also highlighted changes in treatment towards returning staff, including being ignored or excluded (64.8%), facing excessive work monitoring (41.2%), or encountering hostile reactions when seeking assistance (27.9%).

To address these issues, the report proposed several recommendations. These include fostering closer consultation between employers and employees to understand pregnancy-related needs, providing appropriate breastfeeding facilities, and promoting a workplace culture that is inclusive and intolerant of disrespect or discrimination.

Moreover, the report emphasised the importance of ergonomic role adjustments to minimize the risk of harm to pregnant or returning workers. It called for proactive measures from management and HR to create an environment that supports the needs of pregnant and returning employees effectively.

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