To say Police Scotland did not have a great 2015 is almost definitely an understatement. To add to their woes, prior to the Christmas break, the Scottish Women’s Development Forum presented research to the Scottish Police Authority concerning the experience of police officers and staff during pregnancy.
The report highlighted serious concerns that Police Scotland is potentially discriminating against pregnant women, with a main finding that there is “unconscious bias” against pregnant women.
At Thompsons, representing pregnant women who have been discriminated against is our bread and butter. More than 40 years after the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act many many women still face unlawful discrimination.
In the context of Police Scotland the report highlighted that line managers were lacking in their awareness of their legal obligations and responsibilities. In addition police officers and staff did not appear to have a clear understand of what their legal rights were during pregnancy.
For some women pregnancy is one of the happiest times of their lives. However, workplace discrimination can ruin all of that. It can ruin a woman’s desire to continue in the job that she once loved and it can make a woman’s pregnancy a living nightmare - with constant disputes with the employer regarding maternity pay, time off for appointment and expected duties.
Many women are relieved when they then do stop working and take their maternity leave. However, that relief does not last for long as women start to worry about the job they will be going back to. Will they be sidelined? Will their hard fought for career be in ruins? Will their employer be reasonable regarding child care and flexible working hours?
It should not be like this.
It is 2016. Women should be able to take maternity leave safe in the knowledge that they will return to their post, it will be unchanged and their status in the workplace will be un-diminished. They should not have to spend the first few months of their newborn’s life worrying about how their child may affect their hard fought for career.
Too often at Thompsons we have seen women’s career’s adversely affected by pregnancy. We have represented staff in the emergency services who have suffered discrimination due to pregnancy.
Police Scotland is the second largest police force in the UK. 62% of police staff and 29% of police officers are female.
The Fire Service is the same. Worse, infact. Scottish Government research published in 2014 confirmed that 9 out of 10 operational fire fighters were men. While, more than half of call handling and support staff were women.
It is clear from these figures alone that there is an ongoing issue with gender segregated workplaces.
Close the Gap explain that, “Occupational segregation, by gender, refers to the inequality of the distribution of women and men across different occupational categories and job types. Labour market statistics show that women and men dominate in particular sectors, and are channelled into different jobs within these sectors.”
It is clear from the above statistics that women are channelled into the more “traditional” support roles, while men undertake the operational roles.
This makes it even more difficult for women undertaking an operational role. If these women, who are challenging head on gender stereotyping, are put off such roles because of pregnancy discrimination this has huge consequences for the wider workplace equality agenda.
Employers with such a clear gender divide ought to be promoting women through the operational route. Gender segregation much be challenged. This means supporting women through their pregnancy, encouraging a work life balance, encouraging male employees to take paternity leave, encouraging flexible working – particularly for male and senior staff and developing a culture of equal opportunities.
Only then will the workplace start to become the kind of environment where women are not discriminated against due to pregnancy.