By Claire Zillman
September 1, 2016

A group of MPs laid into the U.K. government yesterday for the rising rate of discrimination related to pregnancy and maternity leave in the country. Conservative Maria Miller, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said the country’s current approach to the problem lacks urgency and bite. “There are now record numbers of women in work in the U.K.,” she said, as her committee laid out recommendations. “The economy will suffer unless employers modernize their workplace practices to ensure effective support and protection for expectant and new mums.”

The committee’s policy proposal on Wednesday followed a 2015 report that showed that pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the country was more prevalent than a decade earlier. Last week, two new studies piled on to that bad news, finding that British women are increasingly concerned about discrimination related to maternity leave and that the gender pay gap of 18% balloons even further after women have kids.

The reality of being a working mom in the U.K. is at odds with the country’s official stance. Its 39 weeks of paid maternity leave is second-longest among OECD countries (trailing Greece’s 43 weeks). Women do not receive 100% of their salaries during those 39 weeks, so the full-rate equivalent is actually 12.2 weeks, but that number still puts the U.K. ahead of 15 other OECD countries, notably, Australia (2.5), Canada (8.2), Japan (9.4), and the United States (0).

The problem the U.K. faces echoes a critique of the feel-good maternity policies at companies like Netflix and Micorsoft in the U.S.; that bestowing a generous leave to new moms is not as helpful as it could be—and can even backfire against women—if the wider culture doesn’t support them taking advantage of it.



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