Harriet Harman: 'Dear employer: Women are being treated badly as working mothers - this has to stop’

Joeli Brearley
Today is 'Dear Employer' Day

What would you say to your employer - current or previous - if you could? For tens of thousands of women in Britain, it would undoubtedly be something about motherhood. 

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission estimates that 54,000 women a year are pushed out of their job as a result of maternity discrimination, and 77 per cent of working mums encounter prejudice. Those figures have nearly doubled in the last decade - far from getting better, the situation is drastically deteriorating.

You would be hard pushed to find a woman who has procreated, returned to work after maternity leave, and has only good things to say about her employer. I’ve met three - and one of them worked for her husband.

The thing is, we know that employers want to retain their female workforce - with such an enormous skills shortage they would be fools not to - and as the gender pay gap continues to climb up the agenda, they also want to understand how they can make their workplaces work for women. So we had a radical idea - let’s tell them.

At Pregnant Then Screwed, the organisation I launched in 2015 to help women combat maternity discrimination, we believe that mothers have the answer, if only employers would ask them.

Rather than twiddling our thumbs and waiting for this to happen, last year we launched ‘Dear Employer’ day - encouraging mothers to write to their employer - previous or current - telling them where they screwed up, what they did brilliantly and how they can improve.

Harriet Harman has joined the Pregnant Then Screwed campaign Credit: Andrew Crowley 

It is designed to cut to the core of discrimination. From enhanced parental leave to supporting returning mothers; dealing with unconscious bias and implementing flexible working... or just to tell them how badly wrong they’ve got it in the past and why.   

This year Harriet Harman MP, is leading the charge - penning an open letter to Government following her treatment as a parent over the last 36 years. Harriet was elected at a time when mothers could not bring their babies to votes. Her position as an MP meant working long and challenging hours, that would regularly end past 10pm, thus completely incompatible with childcare. When she told her employer that she needed time off work for mastitis, the news was immediately and cruelly leaked to the press. 

She says:

‘’Today I’m joining women around the country for “Dear Employer Day", a campaign led by Pregnant Then Screwed and the Guilty Mothers Club to highlight the problems facing parents in the workplace and create positive change.

Let’s remember that pregnant women are not on holiday, they are giving birth to and bringing up the next generation of taxpayers, carers, scientists etc.  So they are vital, not people who need us to do them a favour!

Yet when I was pregnant I kept it secret for as long as I possibly could.  Then, in Parliament, I shrouded myself in voluminous maternity wear hoping my colleagues would not focus on my bump and write me off as a serious parliamentarian.

That was in the 1980s but still today there are women MPs keeping their pregnancies secret for as long as they can so as not to unleash criticism from their constituents or jeopardise an opportunity for promotion on to the front bench.

And that’s the story in workplaces up and down the country across public and private sectors.

Pregnancy should be a cause for celebration not the trigger for unleashing discrimination.

Most women with children spend many more years at work than they do hovering over a cot.  And their commitment is redoubled with their determination to set an example to and bread win for their children.

I pledge to actively support new mothers, and fathers in Parliament.  And let’s tackle the parenthood penalty in employment for all women and men.’’

Harriet Harman MP, Mother of the House of Commons

Last year, an incredible 80 women were brave enough to write to their employers, and the results were astounding. One FTSE 100 company received three letters from women who were then invited in by HR to discuss what changes needed to be made. Another arranged listening groups with staff and amended their policies as a result.

Writing this letter probably won't change what happened to you, but it could have a positive impact on the next generation of female employees who will announce their happy news, and cross their fingers that their employer treats them with the care and respect they deserve.

If you would like to join this campaign and write to your employer, you can use our template to get started. Email us or BCC us into your at dearemployer@pregnantthenscrewed.com and then keep us updated on the result. Together we can change workplace cultures to the benefit of everyone.

Will you be writing to your employer on 'Dear Employer' day? What would you like to tell them about your treatment as a parent? We want to hear from you in the comments section below and in the Telegraph Women Facebook Group