Discrimination in recruitment example – can more equal parental leave help?
If you asked me what is my most prized possession, it would be my marriage certificate. It is my life in a legal document: issued in my hometown, representing the most important relationship in my life and even evidencing my right to remain in this country. Yet, if you asked me that in an interview, I would lie.
Last year, in an epic job hunt that (thank goodness) culminated in my place at didlaw, I attended numerous interviews, and at each one, I took off my wedding band. If asked a personal question where it might be relevant, I referred to my husband as my partner or even my housemate. I had heard countless whispered horror stories of women being asked their family plans in interviews, or pointed questions about their relationship status. I needed a job, and it just wasn’t worth the risk.
I am certainly not alone. Even though it would generate a clear and classic discrimination in recruitment example, employers know hiring a woman who may shortly go off on maternity leave is expensive. Obviously, this is a stereotype and the woman in question may never have children. It is inevitably at the back of many managers’ minds when interviewing a woman of childbearing age: even though she may be more qualified, will she cost us more than a man and will she come back?
Fundamentally, most discrimination in recruitment examples are hard to prove. Unsuccessful interviewees usually don’t know the details of other candidates, or why they were turned down. A Data Subject Access Request could turn up evidence of discrimination, if the company was foolish enough to put it in writing, but even in that case there is still the question of enforcement via a tribunal claim, which can be an expensive order for someone who is unemployed. Also, who wants to develop a reputation of making claims against prospective employers? So what is the solution?
The most obvious problem is the yawning gap between maternity and paternity leave. Women who give birth (or adopt) are entitled to up to 52 weeks maternity leave. Their partners get two weeks paternity leave. Anyone taking maternity leave has the option to essentially share it via shared parental leave, but this means curtailing their leave at a physically and emotionally vulnerable time in their and their new baby’s lives. Grotesque as it is, many employers see their workforce only in pound and pence terms, and if you are hiring a potential mother versus a potential father, the calculation is obvious.
The law cannot do all the work. Although individual situations of course vary, across our society mothers have always carried the brunt of the childcare burden, and their careers have taken a hit as a result. Mothers and fathers both need to be proactive about splitting childcare evenly. If managers look at their workforce and see the Johns as well as the Janes dipping out on occasion to do the school run, they might be less likely to see only women in terms of their additional costs.
This is a complex issue which does not have easy answers. I do not pretend that to even out maternity and paternity leave would be a cure-all for the entrenched sexism that leads to discrimination in recruitment practices. Society at large needs to change but this might just be a start.
This blog was written by Kendal Youngblood, Solicitor at didlaw.