The research quantifies, for the first time, how many pregnant women and new mothers say they are experiencing discrimination in workplaces across the country.
Overall almost half (45%) of women who had worked while pregnant said they experienced some form of discrimination because of their pregnancy.
A fifth (21%) said they lost out financially due to discrimination.1
One in 20 (5%) were put under pressure to hand in their notice when they announced their pregnancy.
The results are released as the EOC launches its 'Pregnant and Productive' campaign calling for urgent action to end unlawful treatment of pregnant women at work.
Other research projects for the 'Pregnant and Productive' campaign have unearthed the many forms of pregnancy discrimination experienced by women across the country. These range from denial of promotion, bonuses and training opportunities and changes in job descriptions to being left out of decisions and even verbal abuse.
The EOC's campaign emphasises that it doesn't have to be this way. The majority of employers are supportive of women during their pregnancy, and many are well aware of the business benefits of doing so. The EOC is working with employers and employees to find solutions to the problem.
Backing the campaign is mum and Olympic athlete, Denise Lewis, who herself experienced problems with her coach when she announced she was pregnant with daughter Lauren.
Ms Lewis said: 'I really believe that women should not suffer at work just for being pregnant. For me pregnancy was a short pit stop and I always believed that I would return to my career. Although some of the findings of this report are alarming, it's great that the investigation has exposed the scale of the problem. I would urge everybody to get behind the 'Pregnant & Productive' campaign and pledge their support by visiting the website'.
The EOC is now calling on people to back its 'Pregnant and Productive' campaign by visiting www.eoc.org.uk/pregnancy, where they can pledge their support and help build pressure to address the problem.
Julie Mellor, chair of the EOC said: 'Our findings make for shocking reading. Women should not be penalised simply for being pregnant. The impact on women, their partners and families, and on the health of their baby can be disastrous.'
'Although some employers knowingly flout the law, many businesses do face genuine challenges in managing pregnancy and simply don't know what their responsibilities are or what help is available to them. We need urgent action from the government to provide more information and support for pregnant employees and their employers.'
The EOC is calling for two main changes tohelp employers and employees manage pregnancy at work more effectively:
* Government to provide a written statement of maternity rights and employer responsibilities to every pregnant woman, with a tear-off section for her to give to her employer
* Government to give employers a 'right to request' employees to indicate their planned return date much earlier during maternity leave where possible
Experience of discrimination by sector
% experiencing discrimination
Hospitality and Consumer
Manufacturing & Utilities
Business Services eg. finance, insurance
Experience of discrimination by occupation
% experiencing discrimination
Managerial / professional
Other non manual
1 - 7 per cent of 441,000 (the number of pregnant women per year who are working as employees, based on the Register of Live Births and the Millennium Cohort Survey)
2 - This includes losing their salary when they lost their job, having their salary
The EOC commissioned independent research amongst more than 1,000 women who had recently given birth and worked whilst pregnant. 1,006 women with a child aged between 9 months and 2 years who were employees at some stage during their pregnancy were interviewed by telephone during May and June 2004. Findings were weighted to the profile of mothers with a child aged under one taken from the Labour Force Survey within two age bands - 16-30 and 31+. The research was carried out for the EOC by IFF Research.
Case studies are available. Examples of quotes from women who have experienced discrimination:
'It was just completely different from the minute I found out I was pregnant, the attitudes of people, I don't know, I just felt like an outsider-I just felt pushed out, to be honest.'
'They interviewed me and they selected me as head nurse and then once I told them I was pregnant, they took it away from me.'
'I kept finding letters about me on the desk and I missed out for two years on a pay rise, everybody had a pay rise apart from me, because I was on maternity pay. I didn't receive a salary increase and in fact had to fight to keep my salary at the level that it was at.'
Many employers do manage pregnancy successfully: HSBC bank has almost trebled the number of women coming back to their jobs after having babies, saving millions of pounds. The numbers who leave after having a baby declined from 70% in 1988 to 15% 13 years later (2001), following introduction of childcare and work-life balance policies. Nationwide's current maternity return rate is 91.5% - a 30% increase over the last 10 years that has saved the company£3m.
The EOC has found that employers who have experienced pregnancy in the last three years are more positive about it than those who have not - indicating that fear of the unknown is part of the problem.
The EOC's Pregnant and Productive campaign is part of an investigation into pregnancy discrimination. The investigation was launched in 2004 using the EOC's statutory powers under the Sex Discrimination Act with funding from the European Social Fund. It aims to find out the scale of pregnancy discrimination, the impact of discrimination on families, employers and society, and what can be done to make pregnancy a more positive experience in the workplace. The investigation's final report is due in summer 2005. For more information see www.eoc.org.uk/pregnancy