The maternity discrimination problem

We agree that there is discrimination going on in the British workplace concerning women, children, maternity and pregnancy. The important question though is not whether but who? Who is doing the discriminating?

A study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) earlier this year, reported a bias against working parents. Its survey of 1,106 employers in the UK, revealed that a third believe new and expectant mothers are “generally less interested in career progression” than their childless counterparts. Of those polled, 40 per cent claimed they had seen at least one woman in their company “take advantage” of their pregnancy. 

Nearly 60 per cent of employers surveyed said women should have to disclose a pregnancy during the recruitment process. Meanwhile, 36 per cent said it is reasonable to ask about their plans to start a family.

Previous research has shown that 40 per cent of employers avoid hiring a woman of childbearing age.

We could read all of that as saying that employers do discriminate against pregnant women and new and would be mothers. That they'd like to be able to discriminate more.

But we do have something of a problem here. What if the basic claim, that mothers put children - all of such things are on average across the population of course, not relevant to the decisions of any one woman - before career are true? What then?

The thing being that as far as we know this is true. Women do indeed tend (again, tend) to become primary child carer, it is more likely that female career ambitions are put on hold than male. That then leads us to, well, who is making that decision? 

We might claim that it's the patriarchy, capitalism, The Man, insisting that women throw away their dreams. Or it could be that this accords with the desires of the women doing the deciding. What we might do about it all, even whether we do anything at all, rather depends upon that very question - who is it doing the discriminating?

Given that we see exactly the same pattern in every human society we can observe, yea even unto the Scandinavian social democracies, we do rather conclude that it's the individual choices of the women concerned which lead to the larger pattern we can see.

At which point what do we do about it? And why would we do anything about the freely expressed choices of consenting adults?  

Another way to put this is that the recognition of an unequal outcome is not sufficient as a justification for action. If the inequality is the result of the exercise of freedom and liberty well, that's just that, isn't it? We insisting that the freedom and liberty being exercised are more important than the inequality.