There has been extensive press coverage regarding pregnancy and maternity discrimination today. It’s as if the world has suddenly woken up to the fact that women are losing their jobs for having children. Except it hasn’t woken up. Nothing is being said today that wasn’t being said in 2013.
Since 4th July I’ve been trying to secure a place at the table for the Scottish Government’s Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination Working Group. I contacted the Chair of the group, Jamie Hepburn MSP, who replied personally to me within an hour.
“I’ll pass this onto my ministerial office and they’ll have a look at it and see if it might be possible for us to meet, or how you can feed into the working group that I will be chairing.”
I was cock-a-hoop. After all, whilst my book research is exploring the issues of pregnancy and maternity discrimination internationally, my main focus of research has been in Scotland and the UK as a whole. I have heard many stories from across Scotland. I’m gathering together the ‘mistakes’ made, the lessons taken from the experience of discrimination, the moments when the women realised they had been pulled into a game in which they had not been informed of the rules.
I’m about to go into my next phase of research where I explore the impacts of positive maternity policy on small businesses and what can be done about that without ruining the experience of early motherhood (and all that goes with that for the entire family and society as a whole).
I couldn’t wait to share this with Scottish Government. I want to make real change. The change that government’s talk about and that the women that I represent are desperate to see.
A month later I received a reply from the ministerial office that was polite and encouraging in tone, and if it wasn’t the fact I am writing a book on the issues it may have been informative. They have welcomed my offer of input, although they tell me lots of people have offered to help. They’re working with EHRC Scotland which could be brilliant, but I know women who have reached out to EHRC and have been completely ignored.
My main concern is that the letter includes some of the ideas that they outlined in the initial press release about the Working Group. Drafting employer policies, guidance for reporting on pregnant staff and lots of other dry, ultimately well-meaning but useless ideas that ensure the power remains in the hands of the employer, not the employee. Come on Scottish Government, we have guidelines. They’re called laws. They’re being ignored. And believe me, it’s often at the point that women point out to their employer that they feel that they’re being bullied that things really turn sour.
I went back to Scottish Government outlining my fears that they are going to play it safe when Scottish women are waiting on them to be brave. Nine days ago I received a reply informing me that my concerns and hopes have been noted, which will be taken on board as the group’s remit develops. In response to my email where I shared the fact that one of Scotland’s biggest institutions is repeatedly and systematically kicking women out of their jobs, I was told that the group is not yet at the stage of considering case studies.
It seems to me that the group has been formed (although I can’t find out who is included in the group), and nothing will change. I urge the Scottish Government to include me fully; if nothing else I can stress-test their recommendations and provide a voice for the women who have already told me their stories (no details that would reveal the identity of interviewees will ever be passed from me to anyone). But I also think I can offer more than that. I have identified key points in the testimonies I have gathered that reveal a common roadmap for pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and more importantly how we break it.
By focusing on these areas – the points in pregnancy where the employer pushes the boundaries of the law, the key times when women begin to lose their power – we can make a difference. And surely that’s what Scotland does best. The brave bits.
Today I spoke to a Scottish journalist who suggested that women who don’t speak up about the discrimination they’ve been subjected to aren’t brave. I beg to differ. I now ask the Scottish Government to be brave, too.
I am appealing to Scottish Government to let me help. Together we can explore the areas where we have to think differently to get the job done. It’s never been a better time for women in Scottish politics, and my ambition for Scotland is that there has never been a greater time to aspire to work and raise a family.
We’re not there yet. It’s time to be brave.