Why the glass ceiling still exists
Lucy Evans dissects a case of sexism in the workplace and what this tells us about the glass ceiling.
The case of a woman who sued her former firm for “pregnancy and maternity discrimination, harassment, unfair dismissal and indirect sex discrimination”, as told by The Independent, is making headlines as well as prompting us to question where sexism at work now stands.
The Independent has stated that a woman has “won a payout of more than £180,000 after her boss refused to let her leave early to pick her daughter up from nursery”. The Independent goes on to say that the woman, Mrs Thompson, wanted to reduce to a four-day working week and to finish at 5pm instead of 6pm to collect her daughter from childcare, a request which was refused by the company director Mr Sellar.
This case exposes the ever-lingering problem of misogyny in workplaces and brings this vitally important issue back into public discourse. It calls into question the way workplaces react to pregnancy, maternity and motherhood as well as highlighting the work that needs to happen in the corporate world to eradicate pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
The woman’s success in court is a step in the right direction — the law is listening to women who feel that they have been unfairly disadvantaged by their workplace due to their pregnancy or maternity. However, though the court has listened to Mrs Thompson’s story and she has been financially compensated, the very fact she was placed at a disadvantage in the first place shows we still have a long way to go until pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace are eradicated. The societal problem that allows people to be discriminated against due to pregnancy still persists, despite this compensation.
This case exposes the ever-lingering problem of misogyny in workplaces and brings this vitally important issue back into public discourse
There are laws in place to protect people against pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Citizens Advice defines pregnancy and maternity discrimination as “when you’re treated unfairly because you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or because you’ve recently given birth”. Citizens Advice also states that discrimination is against the Equality Act 2010, meaning that you can “take action in the civil courts”. The law does, therefore, have measures in place to protect those who have been treated unfavourably in the workplace due to pregnancy or maternity.
Unfortunately, just because discrimination is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 does not mean that pregnancy and maternity discrimination does not happen. What really needs to change is society’s view towards pregnancy and maternity, especially in relation to work. Instead of taking a reactionary approach that compensates pregnant workers after discrimination has taken place, the discrimination needs to be stopped before it happens.
Unless workplaces and corporations radically interrogate the ways in which they might be discriminating against pregnant workers or allowing them to be at a disadvantage, both on individual and institutional levels, then cases like this one could happen again.
Cases like this are reminders that the glass ceiling still exists. Women and other marginalised genders are still disadvantaged in their careers due to often unspoken limits placed on them throughout their time in the workplace; limits that could sometimes be rooted in pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The glass ceiling will continue to prevail until people can enter into pregnancy and motherhood without fearing the security of their job, their career progression or how they’re treated at work.