Half of the women who responded to an Equality Commission investigation into the employment experiences of pregnant workers and mothers in Northern Ireland believe that their career opportunities have been negatively affected by their pregnancy or maternity leave.

That is one of the findings of Expecting Equality: Formal Investigation under the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, which the Commission presented at the Expecting Equality Conference on Tuesday 29th November at the Titanic Building, Belfast.

Over one third of the women who talked to the Commission about their experiences said that they had been treated unfairly or disadvantaged because of their pregnancy or because they took maternity leave. They believe this affected their finances, their career opportunities, their status at work and their health.

Words commonly used by survey respondents who were treated unfairly and fairly during their pregnancy

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Of the employers surveyed in the investigation, the majority said that they provide support for pregnant employees and new mothers. They referred to policies and practices they had in place including flexible working arrangements, childcare vouchers and return to work incentives such as phased return and bonus payments.

Some employers also identified challenges associated with managing pregnancy, maternity leave and return to work. Difficulties in providing for staff absences were a concern to small businesses in particular.

The results of this investigation highlight the need for an increased focus on ensuring that workplaces are fairer for, and more supportive, of pregnant employees and new mothers.

The full report Expecting Equality: Formal Investigation is available for download.

A Summary Report is also available.

An online guide Pregnancy and Maternity at Work: Guidance or Employers is available via the Equality Commission's website.