Over half of the female employees in the Norwegian study said they had been treated differently in connection with parental leave or a pregnancy. For men, the figure is 22 per cent. One in five pregnant women chooses not to look for a job because she does not want to be perceived as difficult by the employer.
‘The results are terrible but unfortunately not surprising. Discrimination in connection with parental leave or a pregnancy is the most common reason for contacting us. It happens every week,’ says Elisabeth Lier Haugseth, head of department at the Norwegian Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombud.
The study was conducted by TNS Gallup and included over 2000 people who had a baby during the period 2008–2014.
Lier Haugseth says the differential treatment has serious consequences. Individuals lose a fair shot at employment, salary growth and career development, and society misses out on important competence.
‘We demand action on this. Employers should be aware of the gender equality legislation and stop violating it. Public authorities should promote a gender equal work policy and spread information about workers’ rights. In addition, the path to restitution in court should be made simpler and faster.’
Same problem across the Nordic region
According to Pirkko Mäkinen, Finnish gender equality ombudsman and involved in a Finnish campaign supporting the rights of pregnant women – Oikeuksia odottaville – all Nordic countries are struggling with the same problems.
Of over 700 people who participated in a Finnish study, almost 70 per cent said they or somebody they knew had been discriminated against as a result of being pregnant. In over 60 per cent of the cases, the employer was a company. In 20 per cent of the cases, the employer was a municipality.
‘The statistics only show the tip of the iceberg. Finnish dads take out considerably less parental leave than Swedish dads, so the employers are not used to the idea of men going on parental leave. It may be particularly difficult to stand up for one’s right in communities with limited job opportunities,’ says Mäkinen.
The purpose of the campaign is to inform women and men about their rights and remind employers about the law.
‘Discriminatory hiring practices are not as common anymore. However, an increasing number of people say they have not been able to return to the same job duties after a parental leave. The situation has improved for men. An increasing number of collective agreements include at least partly paid parental leave for fathers.’
Temporary workers vulnerable
Lier Haugseth emphasises that plans to have children should not affect a person’s chances of being called to a job interview or getting a job.
‘Still, 12 per cent of the Norwegian women and 9 per cent of the men said they had been asked about it during a job interview. Fourteen per cent of the women had experienced not getting a job because of a parental leave.’
In Finland, the most vulnerable group consists of women with temporary contracts, women who work part time or for a temp agency, and women with contracts not specifying a set number of working hours – so-called zero-hour contracts.
‘The employers should realise that they get a good reputation if they deal with these issues in a good way,’ says Mäkinen.
Go to http://www.oikeuttaodottaville.fi/sv/etusivu to send your boss an information package anonymously and name good employers that comply with the law. Both these services are used frequently.