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Chapter 3: Experiences of employees during pregnancy, parental leave and on return to work after parental leave

In summary

  • The National Review found that there are a range of different types of discrimination at both the individual and systemic level, experienced by women at work while pregnant/return to work, and by men during parental leave/return to work.
  • Discrimination towards pregnant women and parents at work can have a wide range of short and long term consequences for affected individuals, their families, and workplaces.
  • In addition to experiencing discrimination, women and men face structural barriers. Gender stereotyping and a lack of awareness and understanding of employee rights and entitlements can render women and men vulnerable to discrimination. Limited availability, affordability and access to quality early childhood education and care services is another structural constraint for parents returning to work, particularly mothers.
  • The nature and consequences of discrimination experienced by women and men can be shaped by other factors including their cultural background, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, age and employment status.
  • Effective implementation of workplace policies targeting pregnancy, parental leave and return to work will support efforts to reduce discrimination and promote diverse workplaces.


This chapter explores the qualitative research the National Review gathered through online submissions, as well as direct consultations with affected women and men and community organisations who work with them. It also draws on other Australian and international research.

The chapter outlines the findings on the nature and consequences of discrimination experienced by pregnant women at work, women and men requesting or taking parental leave, and parents returning to work following parental leave.

It also refers to the specific experiences of vulnerable groups including people with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disability, single parents, young parents, and casual, contract and flexible workers.

This chapter identifies structural barriers which either led to discrimination or negatively impacted on parents in the workplace, including: gender norms and stereotypes; lack of awareness and understanding of rights and entitlements; the implementation gap in workplace policies; and limited availability, affordability and accessibility of quality early childhood education and care services.

While this chapter refers to situations of alleged discrimination, the National Review did not investigate or making findings or determinations about any individual cases of discrimination.

3.1 The nature of discrimination

The qualitative research suggested that discrimination was widespread. This reinforces the results of the National Prevalence Survey.

A range of different types of discrimination, including both indirect and direct forms, were experienced by women throughout pregnancy/return to work and by men during parental leave and on return to work. The types of discrimination in this chapter include:

  • negative attitudes towards pregnant women and mother and fathers
  • health and safety issues
  • recruitment bias against working parents
  • changes to salary, conditions and duties upon announcing pregnancy, while on parental leave or on return to work
  • being refused leave for the purpose of caring responsibilities
  • limited contact during parental leave
  • missing out on career advancement opportunities during pregnancy/return to work
  • being denied flexible arrangements on return to work after parental leave
  • inadequate support in workplaces for women who are breastfeeding/expressing
  • dismissal and redundancy.

(a) Negative attitudes

Women and men reported they had experienced negative attitudes in the workplace because they were pregnant, requested or took parental leave, and upon their return to work. Such attitudes are often informed by gender stereotypes about the ‘ideal worker’ and about women and men’s caring roles.

For women, this negative treatment commonly started from the moment they announced their pregnancy, and continued through to their return to the workplace following parental leave. For fathers, the negative treatment often commenced when they requested parental leave or requested time off to care for their child due to illness.

While the negative treatment frequently originated with managers, many individuals also shared experiences of negative attitudes and behaviours from their co-workers. Many affected women and men said they received negative comments and attitudes from both female and male managers and co-workers.

For example, pregnant women were perceived as an inconvenience and liability in the workplace.

When I told my supervisor I was pregnant, the response was ‘well, you will need to leave - this is very inconvenient for the organisation - you should have told us that you were planning this - have you considered [an] abortion?’[153]

I have just announced that I am pregnant again with my second child and my manager’s first words in response were ‘here we go again’.[154]

While I was pregnant, I had worked for [my employer] for 18 years, I found it interesting that the attitudes of senior managers changed towards me, I felt like I was no longer an asset to the business, just a liability.[155]

Women reported receiving inappropriate and negative comments from managers with regard to their choice to continue working with a family.

It was relayed to me that now that I have a child that I should focus on that more and not be so hungry to be progressive in my career. That by offering me this lower job they were allowing me to be a better mother.[156]

My direct manager (female)...told me that I needed to ‘decide what I wanted - a family or a senior role in the's a myth you can have both’.[157]

When asked at a team meeting what my goals were for the new year - the manager joked 'having a baby' while other staff were encouraged to express their professional goals/ training needs/ career aspirations etc.[158]

Negative comments and attitudes also originated from colleagues.

One of the other men in the office had started calling me ‘placenta brain’ when I was pregnant.[159]

[One woman was told] I know where your husband can get a vasectomy.[160]


[One colleague] was constantly belittling me...and undermining me in product training sessions complaining that errors (of which there were none) were due to my ‘baby brain’. My boss did nothing and advised that it was probably unintended.[161]

A few of the other people who worked there were horrible. They would make comments about how I couldn't work long hours, how I couldn't move fast enough (I was 7 months pregnant at the time), how 'useless' I was at work.[162]

A number of women and men said that their commitment to work was questioned upon announcing their pregnancy and on return to work. A common assumption made by employers and co-workers was that mothers would want to return to work part-time or in a role with lesser responsibilities, or not at all.

During a consultation Rita,[163] a medical specialist, talked of her experiences of unfair treatment upon returning to work following parental leave. She said, ‘[people think that] you’re not really serious [about your career] if you take one full year of maternity leave...people think you’re kind of weak, not a serious player’.[164]


The news of my second pregnancy was not handled well by partners in the same firm where I had now been working for over 12 years. They decided that my ambition and desire to maintain my career automatically went out the window upon having a second child, so much so that I was also deemed incapable of performing my current management job on a part-time basis anymore, despite having been performing that exact job four days a week. My request to return to this same job and same days was taken as a joke - suggesting I could do the job with having one child but not with two.[165]

My line manager had openly expressed in a team meeting... that I would be returning but that two days per week was more than enough for someone with two children.[166]

One of my colleagues is in exactly the same situation as me...we were both long serving staff with a combined 27 years of service. It appears that despite all of our skills, qualifications and experience, the partners’ misguided view appears to be that we are no longer capable or competent employees because we are women with children who want to work part-time.[167]

The National Review heard that on occasion parents were sidelined, isolated or ignored in their workplace upon announcing their pregnancy or on return to work.

My employer also informed me...I would need to work in a 'behind the scenes' role when my pregnancy became physically apparent as my employer did not want customers to see me in a pregnant state...My employer said numerous negative things to me about me being pregnant including that appearing pregnant was 'not a good look', was 'not a professional look'.[168]

From that moment [when I announced my pregnancy] I was uninvited to meetings, my opinion was disregarded, I was stone walled by my boss on any decisions.[169]

Some women said that their employers became distrustful of them and closely monitored their work.

[On returning to work my manager] told me that I was affecting her other staff, whenever I took carers leave [to care for my child]. If I was on carers leave, work would ring [more than five] times per day.[170]

When I eventually returned to work [my manager] made things very difficult for me. An example of this would be her close monitoring of my work, negative feedback and shunning me in the office. However, one of the most embarrassing things that happened was that she requested that another staff member conduct an audit of my time sheets. This implied that I was in some way cheating the system or lying about my hours worked. This was a truly awful time.[171]

Some women said that they received negative attitudes and comments from their employers following a miscarriage or stillbirth.

I miscarried at six weeks gestation and took a week off work to recover. My female employer called my husband and told him I shouldn’t need days off work and that after her miscarriage she went to work the next day.[172]

Coming back to work after [my] first pregnancy was terrible as I lost my baby after birth and work started me back during a massive baby sale. I found that very inconsiderate.[173]

My issue was returning to work after the loss of my pregnancy. Since returning to work I have had no support from either my boss or from management. In fact I believe I have been almost forgotten about.[174]

The National Review also heard from women who said that their employers regarded parental leave as a holiday or a break in someone’s employment. Women were made to feel that working while pregnant, taking parental leave and returning to work was a privilege rather than a workplace entitlement.

[My manager] told me that since I chose to get pregnant I should be grateful that they’ve offered me an office position rather than putting me on leave without pay, because I can’t do the job I was hired for.[175]

I think too many employers look at maternity leave as a 'break' in your employment and therefore as some sort of reasonable excuse to change the terms of your employment to better suit themselves, almost as if you're being re-employed by returning to work after having a baby.[176]

(b) Health and safety

The National Review heard that pregnant employees were sometimes denied requests for even minor adjustments such as a stool to sit on, and extra breaks to go to the toilet or have a snack.

This was particularly an issue for pregnant employees working in rosters or shift work, or where the work required physical labour or exposure to harmful substances and chemicals.

Kerry, a [pregnant] cashier was refused a request for a stool to sit on whilst checking items out behind the register to assist with the pressure and swelling of her feet. Another [pregnant] employee, Alice, was refused requests to take toilet breaks outside the allocated schedule. She [soiled] herself in front of customers and suffered humiliation and discomfort.[177]


Tai was suffering morning sickness and was told that she was spending too much time in the bathrooms and not enough on the shop floor. Tai complained to Human Resources but nothing was done. The Human Resources manager said to Tai ‘Pregnancy is not a sickness’.[178]


My pregnancy was very rough. I was sick from day one with nausea, dizziness, hot flushes and vomiting. My ‘morning sickness’ actually lasted all day. Sometimes I was vomiting 10 times a day. My boss got angry because I took frequent toilet breaks. Even though he knew I had morning sickness, he’d text me while I was vomiting and tell me to get back onto the floor immediately. I had bad back and leg pain, but I wasn’t allowed to sit down. If I did, he’d click his fingers at me like I was a dog and tell me to stand up.[179]

Throughout my pregnancy I suffered tremendous morning sickness, and repeatedly requested some flexibility with regards to working hours...My requests were declined by the [senior managers]. When I gave an example of two occasions where I had arrived at work only to spend 10 minutes in the bathroom I was told to enter the 10 minutes into the timekeeper as Personal Leave...By the time I commenced maternity leave, I was taking considerable amounts of Leave Without Pay, as my leave credits had been used.[180]

Women reported that their employers questioned and ignored medical advice provided by their doctors and that they experienced negative consequences such as warnings and threats of dismissal when they requested accommodations for their pregnancy.

Sarah was working as a correctional officer and was required to perform a range of duties that involved working with violent offenders and a risk of exposure to blood-borne diseases while pregnant. Sarah requested light duties to limit contact with prisoners. However, management took a long time to respond to the request and were reluctant to provide flexibility within a rotating roster. Her supervisors appeared to be more concerned about the disruption to other employees, rather than Sarah’s health and safety concerns. The poor handling of the request was stressful for Sarah and caused financial hardship given that she had to take leave for work related stress and she was unable to continue working the same hours and receive the associated entitlements.[181]


I was expected as part of my job to continue to lift and manoeuvre large and/or heavy boxes and bags filled with orders...One of my regular shifts I worked was with someone who had back problems (of which the supervisor and manager were aware) and reluctant to do extra lifting, which meant I had to push the limits of what was comfortable as there was no one else to help. I spoke to both my supervisor and manager about access and safety issues, which were ignored and they would often act as if they didn’t remember.[182]

I work in a supermarket bakery. All the smells made it very difficult to keep food down. Although I [made] my best effort, I had to call in sick a couple of times or go home before throwing up. The first time I called in sick, my manager already told me this couldn’t continue and I had to do something about it...I was prescribed [medication] by a [doctor], but unfortunately it didn't help at all but made me suffer from side effects, such as dizziness, which is very dangerous when working with ovens. I discontinued the tablets and when I had to go home shift I was given a form to sign, saying it was a verbal warning.[183]

My doctor wrote a letter stating I was fit for work but would benefit from not standing for any length of time...When I showed my managers the letter...they said there were ‘no chairs’ and it seemed like my doctor is trying to wrap me up in cotton wool. I spent the rest of the time trying to take it as easy as possible as lifting/bending/squatting place a huge amount of pressure on the (cervical) stitch I had in place and I was concerned for my baby. I was forced to use most of my annual leave during this time as some days I physically could not do my job. I feel like I had to go on maternity leave early as my workplace was not accommodating at all.[184]

In the United Kingdom the government provides employers with comprehensive information on employer obligations with regard to the ensuring the work health and safety of new and expectant mothers and employees who are breastfeeding/expressing milk. This includes detailed guidance on the work health and safety risks associated with pregnancy and breastfeeding, and checklists for carrying out risk assessments.[185] By comparison, there is currently very little information available in Australian jurisdictions to assist employers and employees with addressing health and safety issues in relation to pregnancy at work.

(c) Recruitment

Some women experienced discrimination when applying for jobs because they were pregnant or had children.

During the recruitment process, women received inappropriate questioning or comments about their plans to have children and their commitment to work while caring for children. Such discrimination may be underpinned by gender stereotypes where ‘women are still perceived as the main carers and therefore not primarily as workers with full employment rights’.[186]

When I asked about why I had missed out on the job, my manager stated that I might not handle the extra work with two children, and that I probably wouldn’t want the extra stress when I was going on maternity leave soon anyway.[187]

She withdrew the job offer explaining that the job was complicated and by the time I was confident in the role I would be preparing to leave to have my baby. She stated that they would not continue in the recruitment process with me but she thanked me for my honesty, asking me if it had been a dilemma for me to tell them about the pregnancy. When I told her that it had been a dilemma as the pregnancy was very early and there is still a risk of miscarriage, she said, ‘well I was going to say, without wanting anything bad to happen, but if your circumstances change, give me a call’.[188]

Throughout the interview my commitment to the role was questioned fairly aggressively and despite answering these challenges fairly well I think, it seemed nothing I could say could convince the panel of my commitment to my work and my career – what was more infuriating is that I had ruled out having another child and wanted to immerse myself in my career and work.[189]

Individuals working in Human Resources also witnessed negative attitudes and behaviours towards applicants on the grounds of their pregnancy or potential pregnancy, during the recruitment process.

I am constantly surprised about the discriminatory comments made and I know firsthand despite my advice, the number of times a female employee is not recruited or promoted because she has young children or sometimes even because she might get pregnant. Many of the times these women wouldn’t even know they are being discriminated against.[190]

When recruiting new staff it is often openly discussed about whether a person might be likely to have maternity leave in the near future and [this] has been a deciding factor not to hire women in certain roles.[191]

Some parents told of employers requesting private information and access to health records of potential employees even when they appeared irrelevant to the position. For example, the National Review was provided with a copy of a recruitment form which asked applicants questions about whether they had had any stillbirths, pregnancies or abortions and if their partners had been sterilised or had hysterectomies.[192]

(d) Changes to salary, conditions and duties

On occasion, pregnant women and mothers returning to work experienced changes to their salary and conditions, as well as changes to their workload or duties which negatively impacted on them.

The National Review heard that this would often occur either shortly after an employee had announced their pregnancy or while on parental leave. Frequently the employee was either not consulted about the changes or received very limited opportunity to negotiate with their employer.

Some women said that they felt pressured by their employers to give up their permanent status and accept casual employment in return for flexibility.

It’s late into my pregnancy, so they have now put me down to eight hours from 24 hours. They said I was lucky that I didn’t tell them earlier as they would have cut me back straight away if they had known about it.[193]

In relation to salary, some pregnant women on returning to work found that their salary was reduced, or that they did not receive a pay increment or bonus in line with their colleagues.

While I was on maternity leave...[my boss] told me that there had been a business decision that I was no longer suitable for the role I was in previously (they had offered it full-time to my maternity leave person). She said, don’t worry I have managed to secure you a position in another department but it was a $20,000 pay difference.[194]

Whilst I was on maternity leave and since my return to work I have had many challenges including...demoted on work grading classification and bonus qualification and entitlements (eg car parking entitlement revoked) post my first and second returns to work following maternity leave.[195]

Others in their absence on parental leave had their working conditions changed without their knowledge, including changes to shifts and job requirements.

I am currently on maternity leave. In mid-July I wrote a letter to my manager telling her I would like to return to work at the start of September, I gave her the letter in person and had a meeting with her to discuss the days and hours I could work...Finally she rang me 7 weeks after I first went to see her and all she said was ‘sorry all we have is night hours, don't suppose that is going to suit you is it!’ She knew I was still breastfeeding and that I couldn't work at night... My manager told me she isn't prepared to take my old hours off the people who got them when I went on leave.[196]

My boss also says that if I return to work I will be required to travel regionally and overseas at short notice and for two weeks or more, even though I didn’t do this before I went on maternity leave. He said that if I don’t agree to work full-time and travel with a moment’s notice then I have to tender my resignation.[197]

In relation to duties and workload, pregnant employees and parents returning to work experienced significant reductions in responsibilities and hours.

Alejandra had been employed by a cleaning company for two years before becoming pregnant. She needed very short breaks to have a snack but her employer insisted that she only take breaks every five hours. She was given the option to reduce her hours if she wanted to take short breaks, and shortly after was removed from the roster completely.[198]


I strongly felt from the day I told my manager I was pregnant they were planning for me to leave. The volume and responsibility of my work was scaled down.[199]

When I returned after 11 months parental leave, I was put in a more junior ‘secretariat’ role – something I was over skilled for.[200]

I was told I couldn’t return back to my previous work and that they were looking at a number of equivalent roles...I was left in what I would call a floating project role doing bits and pieces of work. There’s no way it was the equivalent in terms of responsibility to what I was doing previously and also [I] was told that I had five months to find another role and ...then it was likely I would be made redundant[201]

Conversely, some people had increased duties and workloads allocated to them, making it difficult and sometimes impossible to meet expectations, deadlines and targets.

Since I announced to my boss that I was pregnant my workload tripled. Items which...had been sitting on his desk for months were suddenly a priority and strict deadlines were expected to be adhered to.[202]

From my personal experience I have experienced bullying and intimidation tactics at almost every part-time discussion with pressure from management to work more hours and to work later shifts.[203]

Unexpected changes to salary and conditions and the imposition or reduction of duties and workloads appeared to some employees as an attempt to pressure them to resign without a formal dismissal. The term used to describe employers pressuring or forcing pregnant employees and new parents to resign has been described in other pregnancy discrimination research as ‘mobbing practices’. [204]

(e) Denied leave

(i) While pregnant

Some pregnant employees were denied their requests for leave for pregnancy related sickness or to attend prenatal and IVF medical appointments. They also said that they faced negative reactions and consequences for accessing leave for pregnancy related sickness.

I was constantly told the company is suffering due to my medical issues and absences and threatened multiple times with forced unpaid maternity leave or being sacked if I didn't fix it.[205]

I was so sick but too scared not to go to work.[206]

One manager actually told me ‘you know you are not really sick just pregnant’.[207]

[I was] actively discouraged from taking any sick days and told to avoid making any necessary doctor's appointments on work days.[208]

Penelope informed her supervisor that she needed a day off work to attend prenatal appointments and this was noted on the roster. The next day she went in to work and was told she was suspended for not showing up at work.[209]


(ii) On return to work

Some parents returning to work said that they were provided limited access to personal leave to care for sick children, and experienced negative attitudes from managers and colleagues regarding their family responsibilities.

Whenever my son wasn’t well and I’d access the carer’s leave, I was always made to feel like that was a pain as well. I think I accessed it twice within a month and then I was told from then on I would have to bring certificates from the doctors, which I could do, but [it just] made feel like you’re doing something wrong by using your entitlements.[210]

So my daughter went into day care. As [this was her first time in day care] she got all the bugs and got sick. I was on-and-off work and worked as much as I could, being made to feel guilty every time because I wasn’t at work. She ended up in hospital with bronchiolitis, pneumonia and was on oxygen for four nights. All my manager could say to me was ‘its stock take’.[211]

Australian research also found that accessing leave for caring purposes was a key concern for parents when returning to work, particularly where paid leave is taken for caring.[212]

(f) Parental leave

(i) Requesting or taking parental leave

The National Review heard that some women and men experienced unfair treatment and discrimination when requesting or taking parental leave.

Research in Canada has found that male employees believed that their employers would react negatively if they took more than one month of parental leave.[213] The National Review heard this was also the experience of some men in Australia, where employers were more reluctant to approve requests from men to take parental leave than from women. In addition, men said that they faced additional obstacles with accessing parental leave entitlements, in comparison to their female colleagues.

So I went back to my employer and [said], I want to take paternity leave. And he laughed! That’s for the mum!...They don’t want to make it easy for male employees to access it because it costs them money.[214]

A male colleague sought to take parental leave (in our employment terms, the same type and period of leave was available to mothers, fathers and adoptive parents). He was subjected to a protracted negotiation process and was only in the end able to take half the time (six instead of 12 weeks) not as full-time leave, but as a reduction to three days per week. This was appalling, and demeaning both to him and the women who took the leave. It imposed a double standard: the men were too valuable to take the leave as offered, but the women were dispensable. I know it also placed a lot of stress on his family because they had planned that he would take up the primary carer role for the period of the parental leave.[215]

I tried to take the day off on parental leave and got told I had to provide a medical certificate. When I told them my son wasn't sick, but only a few months old and required my care due to my wife's work, I was told to provide evidence from my wife's work that it was compulsory. I didn't want to do this, so instead used my flex hours to take the day off.[216]

In relation to women’s experiences, the National Review heard that some women were pressured by their managers to take parental leave earlier than they had intended. The reasons ranged from employers citing health and safety reasons, to their employers no longer wanting them in the workplace.

I notified my supervisor of my wish to commence maternity leave three weeks before my due date...My supervisor informed me that this wasn't possible because she didn't want any unforeseen medical emergencies...As a result, I was forced to commence maternity leave six weeks before giving birth. My baby arrived ten days when I was due to return to work six months later I felt robbed of those three extra weeks with my baby.[217]

[When] I informed my employer I was pregnant...they were not [willing] to accommodate [my] flexible [work request]...[and they] wanted me to take [parental] leave early.[218]

While some women were pressured to return to work earlier because of work demands, others had to extend their parental leave against their wishes due to uncertainty in their employment.

I was pressured to return to work within a shorter period of time than I was comfortable with, even though I am not using all of my paid entitlement, let alone the unpaid portion. All my colleagues were genuinely surprised when I told them how long I would be on leave.[219]

I felt pressure to return to work earlier than I had intended. I was allowed one year unpaid leave. I returned to work on a part-time basis after six months. This pressure I felt came from the small nature of my department, and my workplace did not replace me while I was away, they simply worked one person short. This did not make me feel valued, and placed the remaining employees under stress and caused resentment towards me. They felt I was simply on leave (holiday) as opposed to caring for a newborn.[220]

I’m still currently on parental leave. As I am only casual there are no shifts for me to go back to. I was due to return at the end of this month, however there is no work, therefore I have extended my leave.[221]

In August 2013 I notified my company of my intention to return to work. They indicated that if I returned in September they would make me redundant however if I extended my leave until January (one year) they would review the situation.[222]

(ii) Contact while on parental leave

Women said that during parental leave their employers had very little contact with them, and often the responses to emails and phone calls were delayed. This was particularly problematic when organisations had undergone a restructure or there were changes to roles while they were on parental leave.

Women felt that they were treated unfairly because they were not consulted or had limited input into any changes to their roles in comparison to other colleagues who had opportunities to negotiate their positions and any other issues during a restructure.

My company underwent a restructure and I was advised three months after returning to work from my second maternity leave that my role was being made redundant in nine months’ time...[there was] no discussion during the restructure of what I would like to do (career path) and my interest in increasing or decreasing my current number of days work.[223]

I had no contact from work other than a letter received outlining my performance review (which I never knew had taken place) and thanking me for my efforts...I received an email (from my old manager) a couple of months before I was due to return to say my job no longer existed and that I would be placed into a lesser role. Upon return to work I discovered my original position was given to somebody else...I was then working in a role being paid $15,000 less than my offsider who also had special work hours and a dedicated car space.[224]

When I made contact before wanting to return to work – I was told my workplace could no longer accommodate my requests for [a flexible] work arrangement...I was given no option to negotiate, no face to face contact [and] finally one week before I was due to return to work I was told my position had been made redundant.[225]

There was a lack of clarity on whether it was the role of managers or Human Resources to keep in contact with the employee regarding restructures or changes to roles.

I rang and spoke with the...human resources representative and explained my situation...having no access to a computer and limited access to child minding that made applying for positions very difficult. The advice I received was that I should get access to a computer and should attend a career seminar. I was told that there were another ten employees currently on parental leave who were in my situation... I scheduled a telephone call with a senior manager to discuss my unsuccessful applications and how I could improve them. He was unavailable when I rang at the appointed time.[226]

In addition, some people said that they were notified about changes to their roles and employment through other colleagues rather than their managers or employers.

I’ve been off now for eight months and not one phone call, nothing. I’ve since heard from other staff members that my job has been made redundant, but no one’s told me, no management has told me.[227]

Just prior to my return to work, a restructure was announced. My manager did not let me know. I called her and emailed her 10 times wanting to understand what was going on. She never returned any calls or emails. A colleague called me and told me that my job was under threat and I should come into work to find out what was going to happen.[228]

There were a range of experiences relating to ‘keep-in-touch’ policies. Some employers provide employees on parental leave with options for staying in touch with the workplace. The options can include: access to the intranet, email accounts, and newsletters; being invited to work related functions or social events; and agreed phone or in-person contact with a manager or colleague. Some employees were also given the option of not having contact with their employers while on parental leave.

Some women said that they received little to no meaningful contact despite choosing the option to stay-in-touch, while others received unwelcomed communication while on parental leave.

The next day [after giving birth] my whole access to the internal system was cut off. I wasn’t told that I would lose access to my emails. I was no longer able to access the company web for announcements, minutes... all of the industry circulars I no longer received, so everything I subscribed to maintain my own professional development, because it changes so often, I lost...I was not invited to any of the training sessions that were held at work...I was pretty much cut off from everything as soon as I had the baby...[229]

It’s like as soon as I walked out the door I was forgotten. Since then there’s been numerous staff parties. There was a Christmas party. There were people that had retired or left or gone to other stores, so they had farewells. There was my best friend that works there, she’s been there for 25 years, so they did a big morning tea for her. I wasn’t invited, and you’re just made to feel like you’re nothing, you’re not even part of the team anymore. You’re gone.[230]

On leaving the workplace to give birth...I was asked for a personal email for contact during my maternity leave - I expected that this was to contact me with organisation changes or information about my return to work from maternity leave...Within two weeks of leaving work I received numerous emails asking me to complete work for the organisation while on maternity leave.[231]

On leave, no one called and kept in contact with me except for automated newsletters which go to the entire company regardless. I felt very isolated. I called human resources and my manager a few times but work did not contact me.[232]

(g) Missing out on career advancement opportunities

Women and men reported missing out on promotions and career advancement opportunities, such as training, further education and leadership development, because they were pregnant, on parental leave or have family responsibilities. As mentioned above, such discrimination was commonly informed by gender stereotypes around the incompatibility of parenthood and the ideal worker.[233]

I was [acting] in a senior role for over two years leading up to me taking 11 months leave to have a baby. I was leading a high performing team, meeting all my KPIs, and was always achieving outstanding in my performance reviews. Senior management decided to advertise my job towards the end of my pregnancy and despite a great interview, I was overlooked...for someone who did not have the same experience, background or expertise as I did but could commit the hours to it. I believe I was overlooked because I was about to take leave [and] rather than management wanting to back-fill me they replaced me. [234]

When I applied for a permanent position at the Senior Executive level, while my baby was less than one year old, I was unsuccessful...I was told by the recruitment panel that ‘it was essential to be visible to get promoted to that level, and it would be difficult if I returned part-time’.[235]

Men's chances of being promoted are much higher, because they are much more visible. If men took the time off to care for sick children, or worked different hours to leave in time for pick children up from childcare, or shared the part-time work in the early days with their female partners, there would be a much more equitable representation of males to females in the workplace.[236]

In my year back from maternity leave I applied for a promotion and was unsuccessful. When asking for feedback after the interview I was told that I should lower my career ambitions during motherhood. When asked if that's the reason why I didn't get the position they denied it.[237]

I was the only one of my ten colleagues not promoted. I have always received extremely positive performance reviews and just prior to announcing my pregnancy received the very highest level of my performance review. As well as not being promoted, 50% of my role was taken from me and given to a male colleague. The 50% of the role that was taken related to a part of the law for which I had won industry awards, and undertaken specialised training to receive a certain level of accreditation. The male colleague had no accreditation and no experience in the area.[238]

In addition, some women and men missed out on having their performance assessments (often linked to reward systems) or received poor performance reviews, despite there being no performance related issues prior to announcing their pregnancy or taking parental leave.

The research revealed that performance and reward systems disadvantaged pregnant workers and worked against part-time employees.[239] This was a result of the way in which work has been traditionally organised and rewarded to value continuity of service and constant availability. [240]

[I was] denied promotion and reclassification while pregnant. [I was] assured it would occur when I returned but it didn’t...After three years I still haven’t been reclassified as to what I was denied before [parental] leave.[241]

I have seen females in the firm not have performance appraisals conducted because they are pregnant and 'will be going on leave anyways'. While females are on parental leave they are usually not given a salary increase along with their peers as 'they are on leave'.[242]

Adrian worked full-time as a warehouse assistant for just over four years when he took three months unpaid paternity leave. Before going on leave, he felt that he had a good relationship with his employer. After he returned, his employer made him participate in a ‘performance-counselling plan’, gave him a long list of issues about his work performance and ultimately terminated his employment.[243]

Some working parents missed out on other career development opportunities, such as opportunities for further education and training.

While I was pregnant, I found that I was overlooked for extra training - I volunteered for extra duties within our team but was told that I wouldn't be accepted because I would only be there a few more months so it wasn't worth training me. I was also taken off projects and not given new ones.[244]

While I was on maternity leave there was a highly publicised program to mentor women to promotion, however I was excluded from this while on maternity leave and there were no opportunities for me to join such a program, even though I had indicated that I wished to move into leadership positions long before my pregnancy. When I came back from [parental leave] it was clear that I would no longer be considered for promotion, without that being said verbally.[245]

Career support seminars were made available to all staff to attend. At no stage were alternative arrangements, such as ‘mums and bubs’ sessions, or online videos or one-on-one sessions offered to employees on any long-term leave and I was unable to attend.[246]

Georgia had been working for a large public sector employer as a teacher in a regional city for almost 10 years prior to taking six months parental leave. While on parental leave and on return to work Georgia missed out on training and other professional development opportunities. When a position for a Head Teacher role became available she expressed interest in the role. Georgia’s manager advised that the position wasn’t available part-time, despite her employer having flexible work policies. Georgia missed out on the Head Teacher position. She had to jobshare her existing role with a less qualified male co-worker and ended up having to carry out most of the work and responsibilities. Georgia said that she is no longer considered for career advancement opportunities.[247]


Katrina returned to work on a part-time basis after parental leave. The policy at her work states that part-time workers are not able to access study leave or training that exceeds their hours. Katrina is unable to access a training course that is required for her position as she works three days per week and the training course is four days. She has been told she will need to complete the fourth day in her own time and will not be paid for it.[248]

Employees were further disadvantaged by missing out on opportunities to work on key projects and by having their work allocated to other staff.

My project was taken from me as a precautionary measure as I may become less dependable as I had just informed my boss I was pregnant...I was told that women like me (working mothers) bleed the system.[249]

I am constantly losing work to other team members just because I am not there full-time. Other team members are being promoted above me, despite recognition that I am more senior and do more work...I feel like I am expected to choose my career, or my family.[250]

[While pregnant] I approached [my manager] to reinforce that I would really like to do the more clinical orientated work. He took me into his office, shut the door and told me that if I was going to cost him money I would work under his department and [what] they needed [was] a secretary. [My manager] said I was going to be a mother now and just had to get used to it.[251]

(h) Denied flexible work

The National Review heard that requests for flexible arrangements on return to work were sometimes denied without a valid reason or because flexible work arrangements were ‘too hard’ to implement or not possible implement due to ‘operational requirements’.

The organisation has written policies in relation to part-time work, which sound great, but it...says something along the lines of part-time work can be granted, where it is operationally suitable - and hence that line is used all the time as the basis for refusal of part-time work.[252]

I was given all sorts of excuses about why this [part-time role] couldn't happen - he didn't want to set a precedent for other women - there were simply too many in the school on maternity leave; the students couldn't cope with more than one teacher; job sharing doesn't work - they tried it once and it was a disaster.[253]

Returning [maternity leave] employees were seen as a problem to be eradicated rather than an asset to be nurtured...Out of a global workforce of 35,000 employees, and a finance department workforce of 800 employees, [Human Resources] couldn’t provide me with a single example of [jobshare arrangements].[254]

On return to work my employer advised me...that unless I was going to come back [to] work full-time, then I would be expected to take on a new position, and that position would be demoting me [two levels down]. I indicated that the role could easily be performed in a part-time capacity...or the role could easily be performed in a job share capacity. Both suggestions were refused and my employer was not willing to contemplate a trial period.[255]

Parents engaged in roster or shift work faced similar obstacles when requesting flexibility with their scheduled hours. Traditional rostering and shift work schedules do not match the circumstances and needs of a workforce with caring responsibilities.[256] In addition, there can be a power imbalance between managers and employees when negotiating flexible arrangements and hours of work, particularly when employees are much lower down the ‘hierarchy’.[257]

[Woman who had agreed to an 8am-4pm roster with her boss]. I tried to do the right thing and gave almost two month’s notice of my return to work although two weeks was all I needed to give...The day before I started work I was...told I would be starting at 9am...for my first week to be re-trained and I needed to deal with it...I had my mother take a week off to care for my son as I had organised day care for 6:30am-5:30pm...but couldn't follow through as my roster had me finishing at 6pm every night or 8pm and I had no one to pick my son up before then. I had to pay that entire week of care without him being there as the daycare required two weeks’ notice of any changes. When I tried to explain this I was told, ‘too bad’.[258]


Karen is a midwife in a public hospital. Her work involves rotating rosters and shift work. On return to work after parental leave, Karen requested to work less hours and on certain days due to limited childcare options. Her request was denied and her manager refused to be flexible with the rosters. The reason given was that rostering was hard enough to do with shift work and that there was a requirement to have certain numbers of staff working at any one time. However, Karen was aware that other departments could be flexible with their rosters.[259]


(i) Lack of support for breastfeeding mothers

Some mothers returning to work while breastfeeding or expressing told of not being provided with lactation breaks and adequate facilities at work.

The National Review heard that women were using their lunch breaks to express in toilets, car parks and offices with glass walls or without locks because their workplace did not provide suitable rooms and storage for breastfeeding and expressing.

The boss would not approve me breaking my lunch break up into 3 x 20 minute breaks to accommodate my need to express three times a day. Finally I spoke out and said I have some rights and if you don’t accommodate my need to express I would take it further. I was [allowed] to use my lunch time [in three break periods] to express in the car park. I had to email my manager and team every time I left to express and every time I returned. My manager treated me like the enemy and like I was incompetent.[260]

I had to express milk in my car...I had my own office but it was all windows and I was not comfortable expressing there. The baby was not allowed in the office in case she cried, thereby causing an occupational health and safety risk. They did not offer me any room in the building to express or feed, although there were places available.[261]

I was still breastfeeding on return to work. We do not have a room for this – our office is glass walls and open plan. The solution was to wallpaper a glass office with typing paper (this also happened to be the server room). It had no lock and was embarrassing. I had to walk out of that room and deposit my milk in a shared fridge.[262]

Tiffany returned to her job after parental leave and discussed with her supervisor her plans to express milk for her baby. Her supervisor agreed that she could do this, but the only available place with privacy was the toilets. Tiffany works in a male-dominated worksite with shared bathrooms. Tiffany felt very embarrassed about expressing in the toilets, particularly since she needed to use an electric breast pump which was plugged in to the main power point at the sink area and made a loud noise that other users of the bathroom could hear.[263]


On return to work, I was given no support from my direct manager regarding breaks to express – he never stopped me from taking breaks, but continually forgot I needed them and often scheduled meetings...when I was due to express. I was given no support regarding expressing whilst travelling for work in developing countries – my manager left it to me to come up with a way to manage it in my own way...I ended up expressing most days in filthy backyard toilets with no running water.[264]

Some mothers also said that they experienced negative attitudes and treatment from colleagues because they were breastfeeding or expressing.

One of the staff had complained that the labelled bottles of breastmilk in the fridge were a ‘contaminated substance’ and should not be in the common fridge.[265]

There were negative comments about my decision to express milk at work – I was referred to as a cow openly by some colleagues, and in front of upper management.[266]

[One woman was told by a colleague] Don’t you ever think that it’s okay to pop your tits out in front of us when you come to visit us with your baby.[267]

Research shows that better breastfeeding facilities, including dedicated rooms and storage facilities, as well as greater understanding from managers and colleagues about the needs of breastfeeding and expressing mothers can assist mothers returning to work.[268]

(j) Dismissal and redundancy

The National Review heard that some women and men were dismissed by their employers or made redundant shortly after announcing their pregnancy, while on parental leave and on return to work.

I have been made redundant twice - both times (it was at different organisations) [it was] when I was on leave to have a child. I was told there was a restructure both times, however it was only ever my role that was being restructured.[269]

I was told...that if I terminated my pregnancy I could get my job back, so I did and I didn’t get my job back.[270]

My husband lost his job because of my pregnancy. He was working as a tutor at [a] University...At the beginning of the new term it was time to sign a new contract. He announced that I was pregnant and that I was due to give birth in the last week of the semester. He said he might need a substitute teacher to cover his two classes for that week if I went into labour...[His employers] said [that] they were not willing to cover him...Because he was honest with them, and told them up front that he might need to get a replacement for one week, he lost his job.[271]

On my return to work 12 weeks later, I was told that I was being re-assigned to a new job that was at the same level. I was given a desk and no work for the first few days, in order for me to adjust to the inevitable. On the third day, the [Human Resources] manager made me redundant.[272]

Women said that as most employers know it is discriminatory to dismiss an employee because they are pregnant, on parental leave or have a young child. The reason for dismissal that was commonly given was that it was due to a restructure or that it was performance related.

Some women doubted these reasons provided by employers, especially where the parental leave replacement continued to be employed and where no performance issues had been raised prior to having a child. Research suggests that some employers rationalise such dismissals and redundancies by arguing that the employees would leave anyway.[273]

I was targeted for a redundancy as soon as I got pregnant. This is despite there being an equivalent role available and vacant, but they clearly did not want me (who would have to leave on maternity leave soon) in it.[274]

When I questioned what criteria was used to choose people to make redundant, I was told it was based on performance and ‘other’ key areas, which were never listed. When I questioned my managers about my performance, they looked at me blankly and said that’s all we can tell you.[275]

A restructure was announced while I was on maternity leave and I was told that I didn't have a position to return to...I was sent a letter saying this was because my performance was ranked as 2.5/5 although I was never given less than 100 % on performance reviews, no concerns about my performance were mentioned and I also received a bonus that year for meeting all my performance results.[276]

In the last months of my parental leave I was advised via a hurried telephone call that my position was being reclassified and I would need to apply for it before I returned to work. Despite the title, position description, work accountabilities all being the same as the job that I held I was advised that it was no longer my job. Unsurprisingly the person who was acting in the role while I was on maternity leave was a candidate for the role...there was no other re-structuring in the workplace. My role was the only one being ‘restructured’...I had worked in the department...approximately eighteen years. I had always received good performance feedback.[277]

[T]he fact that I was sort of out of sight out of mind, was an issue...the person that [was hired to] do my role on a temporary basis was still there and they’ve since put him into a permanent position...they’ve given him an equivalent role that I was qualified for.[278]


Gabrielle worked as the Director of a sporting organisation...[she] advised her management committee that she was pregnant. Two days later she was dismissed [and] told to leave work immediately...The letter of termination cited performance issues as the reason for her termination, but Gabrielle says that performance reasons were never brought up with her in the three years she had been employed.[279]

Some women and men said that, it can be difficult to demonstrate discrimination related to pregnancy and return to work after parental leave, following a redundancy or restructure. For example, they might not have the opportunity to discuss or negotiate their employment with the employer and it can be difficult to access information and documentation once out of the workplace.

Some individuals said they were victimised when they tried to assert their workplace rights and subsequently lost their jobs.

I had to fight for hours back, then take less hours to get back my job, then lost my job because I fought for my rights. Employer did not care about rules and regulations...I was penalised, judged upon, threatened, [and given] no flexible hours.[280]

I lost my job because I fought for my rights after maternity leave. I was threatened, singled out and pretty much [forced] to leave.[281]

3.2 The consequences of discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace in relation to pregnancy/return to work has multiple, short term and long term consequences for working parents, their families and workplaces.

The consequences of discrimination include mental and physical health impacts, financial impacts, impacts on career progression, impacts on family, and impacts on workplaces.
The National Review heard that issues which may have initially appeared to be short term, such as feeling stressed, a decrease in salary, or missing out on a promotion, could lead to more long term impacts on an individual’s mental health, financial security, and career progression.

At the end of it all I was left with no job, on the brink of losing my home, dealing with a miscarriage, lost all my friends at work, and was left just utterly broken.[282]

I lost my job when I was five months pregnant. The only job I could get after that was a short term contract with a former employer...I worked up until I was 39 weeks pregnant...I was offered a permanent role with my employer when my daughter was 13 weeks old, they said I needed to start straight away or they’d have to give the position to someone else. I needed the money pretty badly so I took the job. It was too difficult to continue breastfeeding after I went back to work so I stopped. I couldn’t afford to put my daughter in proper daycare (there were no places anyway) so I arranged to pay my older look after her until she was 6 months old. When I eventually did get a daycare place the cost took up half my income...I felt constantly stressed and like I was never giving anyone what they needed...The first three years of my daughter’s life were the hardest thing I’ve ever lived through and because of it I refuse to have any more kids.[283]

The impact [of being denied flexible work, subjected to negative attitudes and pressured to resign] has had for me and my family has been significant. Until recently, I was seeing a counsellor to help me through the emotional and psychological stress caused by the situation. Back when we were living through the situation, and until recently, the stress associated with this situation impacted on my ability to care for my son and the ability of both my partner and I to fulfil various commitments we both had outside of work and family. The impact this has had for my career has been huge. I have had to take a position in an organisation which is far from being on the career trajectory I was on because I needed part-time work and it was what I could find. I now work in a different industry... and my resume reflects a rather bizarre career diversion which was driven solely by necessity, rather than desire. I am back in a role closer to where I was five years ago, [but] in a smaller organisation...My current salary is the same that it was five years ago, too.[284]

Research has shown that women with children experience the ‘motherhood penalty’ and ‘fare worse in the labour market than women without children and men’.[285] The term ‘motherhood penalty’ is used to describe the disadvantages experienced by women as a result of gendered stereotypes.

(a) Impacts on health

(i) Physical health

Not providing safe working environments for pregnant employees at work can have detrimental impacts on an employee’s physical health.

[I] worked very long hours [while pregnant]. I asked to cut my time back. [My employer] assured that it would happen, but not until [I had completed a particular task]. As a result, [I] got very sick...[and] ended up taking two weeks sick leave. On my return, [the] Managing Director suggested I take my maternity leave early.[286]

Some women said that they believed that the miscarriage they suffered resulted from not being provided reasonable adjustments to their work while pregnant and because the medical advice from their doctors had been ignored by their employers and managers.

An employee experienced bleeding after ‘breaking the load’ (ie unpacking cartons and boxes from pallets and placing the goods on the shelves). The employee informed her manager and was told to ‘stop using your pregnancy as an excuse’. The employee succumbed to the pressure a few days later and again ‘broke the load’, resulting in hospitalisation and subsequently miscarriage.[287]

It took weeks for my employer to take my doctor’s letter seriously. I needed to resort to the union to change my hours to finishing earlier and my heavy lifting job never got changed which could have added to my miscarriage. [288]

Siobhan suffered from severe morning sickness while pregnant as well as other complications. When Siobhan asked her supervisor if she could see the doctor she was questioned why she couldn’t do it on her day off. She advised her supervisor that her condition was serious before her supervisor agreed to make arrangements for Siobhan to leave work early the next day. Siobhan worked the rest of that day despite feeling sick. She ended up miscarrying [later] that day.[289]


(ii) Breastfeeding

Difficulties about accessing flexible work arrangements, lactation breaks and adequate facilities in the workplace can affect mothers’ choices and ability to continue breastfeeding or expressing.

The anxiety and stress I experienced in worrying about my employment status at this time also [impacted] on my ability to breastfeed my daughter - I didn't get breast milk at all and needed to make a concentrated effort on developing bonding and attachment with her, which would have been natural if I was able to breastfeed.[290]

Arguably these long days were a harder separation for mum and bub but they also had a practical ramification of affecting breastfeeding with me having to spend lots of time expressing. Combine this with some compulsory interstate travel and my breastfeeding journey was complicated, stressful and almost impossible. Expressing in public toilets and in airplane toilets is embarrassing and stressful.[291]

In addition, ‘babies are weaned earlier than desired because of the difficulties with breastfeeding on returning to work after maternity leave’.[292]

It was too difficult to continue breastfeeding after I went back to work so I stopped.[293]

I found myself then pumping in the stalls in bathrooms. This is a disgusting practice, and unhygienic. I would be sitting on a toilet seat, listening to others pee and poo, smelly environment for at least 30 min[utes] a few times a day. A toilet seat is also a difficult place to pump - unsupported back makes holding the pump apparatus very difficult. Very quickly (after three to four weeks of trying) I gave up breastfeeding.[294]

The National Review heard that providing support to mothers who are breastfeeding or expressing would greatly assist with their return to work. In addition, more adequate support for breastfeeding in workplaces can help to reduce staff turnover and absenteeism, as well as improve levels of morale and concentration, which in turn strengthens the productivity of working mothers.[295]

(iii) Mental health

Many individuals shared that the discrimination that they experienced in the workplace had negative impacts on their mental health. Women said that their pregnancies and adjustment to motherhood were made more difficult by the discrimination they experienced from employers and colleagues.

Overall, I would describe my experiences during pregnancy, whilst on parental leave and on returning to work as harrowing, disappointing and probably the worst experience of my life. I spent much of my pregnancy feeling anxious (and sometimes in tears), despite being thrilled about the pregnancy and being physically well. I felt powerless, vulnerable and fearful about my job security and couldn’t understand why I was being treated so badly, especially given my unquestionable commitment to the organisation over the previous seven years.[296]

I felt distressed and upset, humiliated and stressed...I felt like I had a target on my back from the moment I told the company I was pregnant...I realised that the pregnancy would have been a factor leading to my selection for redundancy.[297]

In addition to the anxiety most mothers experience on returning to work following parental leave, I had the added fear of returning to the workplace with no job to go to and where it seemed I was neither wanted nor needed.[298]

I remember feeling like I was in trouble, like I did something wrong and now I needed to face the consequences.[299]

Women said that they were diagnosed with depression and suffered from severe anxiety, despite no previous medical history of mental health issues, following their experiences of discrimination.

I honestly believe that if I had not had a child that this is not the situation I would be in. I also honestly believe that if I had been supported correctly when pregnant and provided [with] a level of security when on leave that I would not have suffered from post natal anxiety which continues to plague me to this day.[300]

My Director harassed me about finding another job and openly said to my manager he was 'just going to make me redundant'. Due to this treatment I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety and subsequently placed on antidepressants.[301]

For some individuals, experiences of discrimination resulted in a loss of self-confidence and motivation in the workplace.

I feel so disempowered as an employee and as a pregnant woman to have gone from this very high intensity, action packed work role that was so crazy and stressful and wonderful, to be put in this office doing the most mindlessly repetitive task for the next five months until my maternity leave.[302]

I think there’s nothing more demoralising when you have kids and you’re willing to go back to work, you want to go back to a meaningful work. You don’t actually want to be going back to some substandard role because you know spending time away from your kids, that time actually needs to count.[303]

I am a shadow of the employee that I used to be (both mentally and physically).[304]

You start doubting yourself and your ability. You start thinking well, maybe I was that bad and you were so determined to get rid of me.[305]

Research shows that mental health conditions also have direct and indirect costs to business.[306] Direct costs include absenteeism, reduced productivity while at work, and workers’ compensations claims. Indirect costs relate to poor work performance; poor morale; high turnover; early retirement; work complaints; as well as litigation and penalties for breaching work health and safety legislation. [307]

Ensuring that pregnant women and parents do not suffer from negative impacts on their mental health as a result of discrimination in workplaces is an imperative for employers who are concerned about the general health and well-being of employees; about meeting obligations under work health and safety and anti-discrimination laws; as well as about productivity in the workplace.

(b) Financial impacts

(i) Short term

Women and men reported a financial impact on individuals and their families including loss of income or insecure income, as well as financial stress.

I had my first child in 2011 and at the end of 2011, after realising that I needed to return to part-time work for financial reasons, my Principal said that there were no part-time opportunities at my school for 2012...I obtained a casual position at a [retail] store chain. This didn’t provide much relief as the hours were irregular. I advised my Principal that I would like to return to work in 2013, but again was advised, no part-time positions. I then fell pregnant with my second child...Because I was not able to return to work in 2012 as I originally wished to, I suffered financially as I was not [eligible for] further paid maternity leave. My superannuation was not contributed to [during the time I was not employed], I obtained casual work which did not pay as much as my teaching job would have and I was put under undue financial and emotional stress.[308]

I was made redundant while on maternity leave...As I am the breadwinner, and as we had used all our savings so that I could be on maternity leave for six months and give our son the best start in life by breastfeeding for six months, I was absolutely devastated. We were fast running out of money and we had (and still have) a horrific mortgage to pay. We had calculated how long I could remain on leave for but it was never expected that I would lose my job.[309]

Some families were placed under serious financial pressures and struggled to pay regular household expenses. Some families said that they resorted to selling their family homes.

My husband and I had to put a pause on our mortgage repayments with the bank so we can keep our house! We had to rely heavily on the generosity and support of our family and friends.[310]

My workplace rejected my [request for a] flexible work arrangement, rejected my application to continue part-time and only extended my part-time hours for another three months. After this extension my manager told me that under no circumstance can I ask for part-time hours again. In anticipation of not having work my partner and I have just sold our house as we could not afford the mortgage with one income.[311]

Some individuals lost their entitlement to either their government funded or employer paid parental leave schemes, following dismissal or redundancy after announcing pregnancy. Casual and contract workers were particularly affected by this issue due to the insecure nature of their work and the eligibility criteria for the paid parental leave schemes available through employers or the Australian Government.

Renata worked for a large not-for-profit organisation in the community sector for six years. She was dismissed after informing her employer that she was pregnant. Renata suffered a miscarriage and found it impossible to find permanent part-time work and a role at the same level. She later found out that she was pregnant again but will not be eligible for the government funded paid parental leave scheme because she had not been working. [312]


Being made redundant when I had just discovered I was pregnant had the double effect of disentitling me to paid parental leave – both from my employer as well as the government paid maternity scheme – as I must have been employed for 10 months out of the preceding 13 months in order to qualify for this payment.[313]

I worked at a medical centre as a permanent part-time employee for six years with hours which let me drop off and pick up my child from school...A few months into my pregnancy my manager reduced my hours and told me that I was now a casual employee...Soon after, just over three months before my due date, my manager fired me for no good reason...I was not eligible for the Paid Parental Leave Scheme because I had been fired just one week shy of the 10 month mark.[314]

(ii) Long term

The initial financial impacts of lost income, underemployment and exclusion from the paid workforce can also has long term financial impacts on lifetime earnings, retirement incomes and savings, and the ‘accumulation of poverty’[315] in later years.

The National Review heard from a small number of women who were aged 50 years and over, and who shared the long term financial impact of discrimination that they had experienced in the workplace while pregnant, on parental leave and on return to work.

When I had children I was made to either resign or return to work full-time after six weeks. I felt I had to resign and felt very discriminated against. I [am] now [approaching] retirement and will have to live on $20,000 a year compared to the $70,000 a year I could have been earning under the old super scheme if I had been allowed leave without pay for a little longer than 6 weeks. Once out of the system, it was impossible to get back into it for many years...I have felt this discrimination...[throughout] my career.[316]

Carol took parental leave from a permanent full-time position in 1999. When Carol returned to work in 2002 she wanted a temporary part-time appointment before returning to full-time work but was forced to choose between a full-time or a permanent part-time appointment ‘because the manager at the time insisted the period of temporary part-time leave for maternity leave could not be extended beyond two years’. Carol told the National Review:

I am still in the same position with [employer’s name] and am still working part-time as a result of the discrimination at the time being forced to either work full-time or accept permanent part-time work. For financial reasons I have wanted to return to full-time work and have asked my managers for increased hours who say ‘now is not the time’...As a result I am facing historical discrimination and economic hardship.[317]



Women of older age experience higher rates of poverty and financial hardship than men.[318] A major factor for this is the movement of women in and out of the paid workforce due to their caring responsibilities, including parental leave.

Studies of lifetime earnings losses comparing women with children and women without children show that the impact of having two children on lifetime earnings forgone is almost 40% for highly educated women, and nearly 60 % for women with lower levels of education. Women with children have been found to earn around $1.3 million between the ages of 25-64 years, almost half that of men with children ($2.5 million).[319]

Similarly in relation to superannuation losses, the research shows, for example, a 32 year old woman (on a $65 000) salary leaving the workforce for two years to care for young children, and intending to retire at age 65, will reduce her superannuation savings by $28 000.[320]

Research into unpaid care has highlighted that Australia’s superannuation system is designed around male patterns of workforce participation.[321] Interrupted patterns of work are a key barrier for mothers with young children trying to accumulate sufficient super.[322] Estimates from 2009-10 suggest that the average superannuation payouts for women are 57% that of men.[323]

(c) Impacts on employment and career opportunities

Research suggests that pregnancy discrimination has significant impacts on the employment outcomes and opportunities for employees contemplating a family.[324] It found that ‘women who reported being demoted or denied promotions, pay rises or access to training, effectively had their career opportunities abruptly halted by their employers or managers’.[325]

Many working parents’ said their careers took a step backwards or stalled following their experience of discrimination related to pregnancy or on return to work.

I strongly believe that my decision to have a child was a career killer...I am reminded every day of the limitations of working part-time...I have not been given challenging work, [the work is] well below my skills and qualifications [and I am] reporting to graduates even though I had been working in the company for more than seven years before going on maternity leave. My career has not progressed since I got pregnant.[326]

What I have found is that my career progression is non-existent and has come to a halt as various sections within my department will not take on part-timers, despite our organisation claiming to be family friendly. The only way I can see my career progressing is by going full-time or leaving the organisation to seek other job opportunities.[327]

I know that having a family has hurt my career and earnings progression with the organisation that I have worked exceptionally hard for over seven years.[328]

I am now in a position that bores me to tears and I continuously ask for more responsibility. I have even offered to return full-time if needs be as it appears that is the only way they'll even consider giving me any type of more stimulating work like I used to. It is incredibly frustrating when your enthusiasm is shot down continuously because you now ‘have kids at home’.[329]

Daniel has been working at a telecommunications company for the last 10 years. Daniel’s company provides eight weeks paid parental leave for secondary carers. Since joining the company, Daniel has taken two extended periods of parental leave to care for his three young children.

After both periods of leave Daniel returned to work on flexible arrangements. He worked from home and flexible hours three or four days per week.

Daniel shifted to a different role within the company in order to access flexible work arrangements. While the new role afforded Daniel the flexibility he wanted, the trade-off has been that the new role offers fewer opportunities for career advancement.[330]



Belinda worked as a paramedic and was advised that she could not take parental leave because she was a group manager. She asked what could be done given that she was going to have a baby. She was told that she’d have to be taken out of the role.[331]


Some women said that they felt that they needed to re-establish or prove themselves to their managers and co-workers, especially on return to work after parental leave.

Since returning from maternity leave...I feel like...I have to start from scratch and compete with more junior staff members on work that should be allocated to me as the senior member of the team. It seems like they just expect me to be pregnant again soon and be on leave again, so take a why bother attitude.[332]

I had to work very hard to re-establish myself and the trust of my co-workers that I was still able to pull my weight despite the change in my working hours.[333]

The National Review heard that individuals taking parental leave and returning to work lost autonomy over their careers as a result of limited career options provided by their employers and managers while pregnant, on parental leave and on return to work. Research suggests that women face both normative and structural constraints when making choices around work and family.[334] A further study has found that, while some women were able to act on their employment preferences, others could not due to a combination of lost opportunities and constraints.[335]

[The] effect on my career has been significant. I feel underutilised in my new role where I have previously been involved in higher level planning and strategy I am being locked out of this and frustrated. I would like to look for alternative employment but it is hard to find when you need to have some form of flexible arrangements regarding hours (part-time). There are very few part-time roles that I would find rewarding and challenging at my level and if I apply for full-time roles I get knocked back when I inquire about potential to work part-time. But also because I have been demoted in my role I have less contemporary examples of the higher level work I have been doing to provide as examples.[336]

The careers of working parents are also being affected because of poor performance reviews received either while pregnant or while working in flexible arrangements on their return to work.

Jane and her partner both worked in the same industry as paramedics. Their work involved rotating rosters and their employer provided limited flexibility around this. When their child was sick and childcare was not available they had no other choice but to take sick leave to care for their child. Her partner’s performance reviews began to suffer as a result of taking increased amounts of sick leave and this was affecting his career.[337]


I was subjected to quite a few discussions about [my poor performance and] how ‘I was dropping my game’ and ‘was letting them down as I wasn't available all the time’...I no longer received any acting opportunities.[338]

Casualisation of employment is common for women such that they represent 55% of casual workers.[339] This can happen to mothers as well as fathers when employers refuse to return employees to their pre-parental leave positions or deny requests for flexibility.

The National Review heard that some women either voluntarily returned to a casual work position in order to access flexible work and obtain family friendly working conditions, or felt pressured by their employers to return to a casual work position, despite being employed permanently prior to taking parental leave. As a result, these women are left in insecure work and lose entitlements enjoyed by permanent workers.

While I was on maternity leave...I was offered to return to a full-time job or take a ‘targeted separation’ payment and work casually. I 'chose' the targeted separation as I really had no choice - three kids under six years old, no family in town, husband travels for work a great deal. Foolishly I assumed it would make no difference to my standing in the organisation whether I was permanent part-time or casual. I have worked casually since then, but as well as losing all my entitlements to leave, public holidays etc. I find I have no status in the organisation anymore.[340]

[While on parental leave] I extend my leave. The manager declined [and] suggested I apply to work as a casual employee. This meant losing my...specialist classification. As I was...under pressure I agreed. In hindsight this was not the wisest choice...If I could have extended my leave and then had a later start date I would have been able to arrange to go back. As it is my daughter is now seven...and I am still working casually to retain my registration.[341]

Ucchino v Acorp[342] involved a series of misconduct allegations by the employer, who ran a childcare centre, against Ms Ucchino, a pregnant employee who was a childcare centre manager. The employer had not raised most of these misconduct allegations with Ms Ucchino prior to her disclosing her pregnancy to them and taking some unpaid family leave. The Court found the poor performance allegations unconvincing overall. The Court accepted that there was evidence of the employer’s hostility to Ms Ucchino’s pregnancy. For example, the employer had said, ‘you know you’re going to make it hard for me, being pregnant in your position, for the business.’[343] The Court held that the employer dismissed the applicant because of her pregnancy and family responsibilities.[344]


The National Review heard that job loss has long term impacts on some people, such as no longer being able to continue their careers in the same field. Some individuals said that they had to study or re-train to find work in another profession.

I was embarrassed and ashamed that this occurred to me and my confidence as a result of the firm's discrimination still suffers. I no longer work in the legal arena because of a lack of confidence and feeling of guilt/shame.[345]

The greatest impact for me has been the career. I have never been able to find a job in that domain ever again.[346]

The greatest impact for me has been obviously I’ve got no career now. I don’t work in the sector that I trained for five years at university.[347]

Samantha was working for a company in a male dominated industry. When her employer found out that she was pregnant she was fired, provided a lump sum payment and forced to sign a confidentiality deed. To support herself and her child, she worked in part-time and casual jobs and eventually secured a permanent part-time position. Samantha then went through a second complicated pregnancy in which her doctor advised that she was unfit for work. Her employer did not allow her sufficient time off and threatened her with dismissal if she did not report back to work. Given the risk to her health and that of her unborn child she did not return to work. Once again Samantha lost her job, received a small payment from her employer and was made to sign legal paperwork. Samantha said that she feels that she’s ‘got no career now’. She no longer works in the same industry as she did prior to having children and is working in a contract role.[348]


As mentioned in the case study above, the National Review heard that some women had signed confidentiality agreements following experiences of discrimination in workplaces. An additional consequence for such individuals is that they are unable to explain why their employment with a former employer ended, in turn affecting their future prospects of employment.

(e) Impacts on family

The National Review became aware of the extent to which discrimination towards mothers and fathers in the workplace can also have negative impacts on their families, adding to difficulties in managing work-life balance and time spent away from home. Mothers frequently spoke of being unable to enjoy time with their babies.

I am still devastated that I was not able to fully enjoy the once in a lifetime opportunity I had to share in the first twelve months of my newborn son's life.[349]

That’s probably what made me most angry. It was the year that I was supposed to enjoy most but it was the hardest year of my life...I totally didn’t enjoy my child.[350]

[My] child was very sick and the stress and anxiety of the work worries and having to attend interviews played a damaging role in my ability to enjoy what time was left of my leave with my baby. [351]

I had to put my child in full-time day care, earlier than planned, at two different day care centres whilst still job hunting so that I had care lined up for when I started. I felt and still do, that the company and the interim manager cheated me out of my maternity leave and peace of mind and effectively stole from me time with my newborn.[352]

Discrimination also caused stress and pressures on other family members.

I had to look for another job...I felt like I had to start again. Initially it took much time away from my son and [put] stress on my husband to take time off while I was looking for jobs/applying/and going for interviews. I really didn't want to have to go for other jobs and wanted to return to my workplace.[353]

The emotional and financial strain on my marriage and family has been both life and life style changing.[354]

3.3 Structural barriers

Working parents reported facing a number of structural barriers which either led to discrimination or negatively impacted on their experiences within workplaces throughout pregnancy/return to work. These include: gender norms and stereotypes; lack of awareness and understanding of rights and entitlements; the implementation gap in workplace policies; and limited availability, affordability and accessibility of quality early childhood education and care services.

(a) Gender norms and stereotypes

Prevailing gender stereotypes persist in some workplaces in relation to the ‘ideal worker’ and the roles of women and men as carers. It is recognised under international human rights law that differences in treatment based on stereotypical expectations, attitudes and behaviour may constitute discrimination, particularly against women.[355] International human rights law places obligations on governments to ‘modify and transform gender stereotypes and eliminated wrongful gender stereotyping’.[356]

Social norms relating to the gender roles of women and men operate inside workplaces and may manifest in harmful stereotypes. Research shows that perceptions about pregnant women and mothers in the workplace, as well as assumptions about their competency while pregnant and on return to work, result from a historical construction of women as nurturers and primary caregivers.[357] Due to perceptions that pregnant women are in a certain ‘state’ or ‘condition’, they are thought of as being forgetful, less rational and disordered in their thinking and behaviour.[358] Similarly, mothers returning to work face harmful stereotypes around the perceived incompatibility of being an effective caregiver and committed worker.[359]

Some women said that they encountered the view that women should stay at home to look after their children and that they needed to make a choice between work and motherhood.

I was told I was both a bad mother and a bad employee for working while having a young family.[360]

While seeking feedback from the panel and members of the executive of my Department I was repeatedly told ‘but surely your priorities are elsewhere now.’ There was clearly an automatic assumption that because I was a young mother that my career aspirations had been somewhat diminished and that it would no longer be a priority for me.[361]

Fathers were also subjected to stereotyping from their managers and colleagues in relation to their caring responsibilities and requesting flexible work. Whereas stereotypes about women’s role as caregivers operate in such a way that women can never meet the requirements of the ‘ideal worker’, these same stereotypes operate in harmful ways on men who step outside of the traditional role of ‘breadwinner’ and ‘the ideal worker’ by having visible caring responsibilities and seeking to work flexibility. In other words, the ‘flexibility stigma’ can affect men as well as women.[362]

United States’ research highlights that while some studies show that fathers are seen as better prospective employees than mothers, other studies found that fathers who seek time off for family caring reasons experience discrimination including being viewed as less committed, and given fewer rewards and lower performance ratings.[363] Men are penalised more than women for requesting flexibility at work because the act of doing so makes them viewed by employers as ‘deviating from their traditional role of fully committed breadwinners’.[364] This could explain men’s reluctance to request flexible work arrangements, as well as men’s low uptake of these kinds of options, even where they are available.[365]

[Most of the female] staff presumed...I would never understand what it takes to become a parent...After returning to work I am still subject to a lot of doubt, unsavoury remarks and assumptions from the usual critics. I feel that the stigma attached to men not playing a rightful role as a father throughout the antenatal and maternal period definitely does exist.[366]

My husband spoke with his bosses about our plans to have a family and he was told that there is no such thing as a part-time business development manager. Their attitude to men taking time off for children is 'men work, women stay at home'.[367]

Within my workplace very few new fathers work part-time, and there is definitely a mentality that part-time/flexible arrangements are for mothers not fathers.[368]

The National Review heard how both women and men were disadvantaged by stereotypes, including those pertaining to the ‘ideal worker’. The ‘ideal worker’ is perceived to be an employee who works in the office; doesn’t have any visible caring responsibilities; hasn’t had any breaks in his/her employment; and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In organisations where this stereotype continues to underpin the workplace culture, employees who don’t fit into this ‘ideal worker’ mould ‘may be labelled as uninterested or unengaged’.[369]

These perceptions create barriers for parents in the workplace which can manifest as unfair treatment and discrimination towards mothers who are pregnant, on parental leave or returning to work, as well as fathers requesting or taking either parental leave or flexible working arrangements.

I believe having children is a huge impediment for women wanting to move up the corporate ladder themselves. The only women in higher management positions (and there are not many of them) either have no children, or came to work here once their children were already grown up.[370]

My workplace is essentially managed as a production line. Production lines need to run at full capacity for efficiency. Consequently, there is a degree of inflexibility around absences regarding children in the organisation as a whole.[371]

A majority of the time I was able to perform overtime work. However, the times I was unable to do so I was belittled and degraded and my colleagues spoke out at meetings that I was letting the team down and could not perform my role.[372]

I believe there is a prevailing culture that women (but not men) with young children are unreliable and/or will not be available on demand.[373]

Harmful stereotypes are reinforced by individuals and can also be ingrained in organisational cultures through policies, systems and processes, including performance reviews, assessments, parental leave policies, hours of work and denials of requests for flexible work. Where this is the case, strategies need to be put in place to challenge these stereotypes at the individual, organisational and systemic level.

These stereotypes are based on the assumption that the existing model of work is immutable rather than a human construct which, if shaped more effectively, will allow both men and women to thrive. Harmful stereotypes need to be disrupted in order to change workplace cultures and create an environment where working parents are accepted as equally committed employees.

The National Review recommends:

  • Leaders within organisations should make strong statements identifying the harmful stereotypes and take steps to remove practices and behaviours that perpetuate harmful stereotypes.
  • Organisations should identify and remove harmful stereotypes and eliminate practices and behaviours that perpetuate harmful stereotypes including through:
    • reviewing/auditing existing policies
    • revising policies and practices
    • reviewing how information is provided to managers and employee
    • training all employees, including line managers
    • monitoring and evaluating the implementation of policies and practices which support pregnant employees and working parents.

(b) Awareness and understanding of rights and entitlements

The National Review frequently heard that employees lacked awareness and understanding not only of internal workplace policies, but also of legal employment rights and obligations in relation to pregnancy, parental leave and return to work.

Some employees said that they were not provided or had limited access to information on internal workplace policies and their legal rights and entitlements while pregnant, on parental leave and on return to work. The National Review was told that employees would often have to seek out information themselves.

During my pregnancy, I never received any support or documentation about my rights...My employer never asked about my safety during my pregnancy or cautioned co-workers to assist me in loading sometimes heavy medical equipment into the car.[374]

I just think that people need information as well that’s accessible, not hidden, like in a manager’s drawer, and not be made to feel that you were doing something wrong by asking for that information.[375]

I was not given any information on [parental leave] etc. but looked them up in the employers code of conduct. I had to take photos of the pages, as another lady had told me, the book ‘magically’ disappeared while she was pregnant and wanted to look it up.[376]

In addition, in some cases, employees ended up having to provide relevant information to their own managers or Human Resources departments.

I was not given any information on my rights and entitlements, but I had access to my workplace policies on our intranet, so I looked them up for the relevant information and provided this to my line manager.[377]

I feel that my director was/is not aware of flexible workplace conditions. His background is as a health professional, not managing people in [an office] environment.[378]

[My manager] was very supportive of me during my pregnancy. It was [Human Resources] who were not very supportive...They told me that they don't even have to give me my job of the [Human Resources] staff told me that I would not even be eligible for [the] government paid parental leave because I had not been there long enough (this was untrue!).[379]

In particular, there appeared to be a lack of awareness in some workplaces about the needs of women undergoing IVF. A small number of women who were trying to become pregnant through IVF said that they felt unable to discuss the issue with their employers and consequently experienced difficulties accessing leave and flexible work arrangements.

I didn't feel that I could tell my employer that I was undergoing IVF or take any leave for the procedures. This meant that my employer was unaware of my subsequent miscarriages and I felt I couldn't take leave for those either. I was worried that if people knew I was trying to become pregnant, it would adversely affect my employment prospects. While I was on IVF, I was asked whether I would be interested in another position within the same organisation, but told that there was concern that I might want to take an extended period of leave at some point and that it wouldn't work for this particular job. I knew they were trying to find out whether I was intending to have children.[380]

I am about to start IVF next year and have faced nothing but trouble about appointments and time off.[381]

Many individuals who reported that they had experienced discrimination suggested that public and workplace education and awareness raising campaigns about the rights and obligations of both employees and employers would assist in preventing discrimination and facilitate an understanding about the needs of pregnant employees and working parents.

(c) Gaps between workplace policies and practice

Despite the presence of good policies, ineffective implementation and unsupportive workplace cultures can undermine these policies.

The part-time nature of mothers returning to the workforce was openly encouraged in policy but realistically frowned upon. The internal culture was quite different to the policy.[382]

Our enterprise agreement states that if a woman goes on maternity leave they must be returned to the same position when they come back but I have rarely seen this occur in practice.[383]

As senior leaders from the Male Champions of Change have noted, ‘While we all have flexible work policies in place and provide options for women and men who are balancing work and family life, it remains unusual for men to take advantage of them, or for women to take advantage of these policies at senior levels. This suggests that there remains a prevailing bias in our organisations, that you cannot be successful as a senior executive on a flexible program. There may be fear among men and women that choosing a flexible work arrangement creates the perception that they are no longer serious—that they are ‘opting out’.’[384]

The National Review heard that the gap in implementation was sometimes because of a decision or the attitude of direct or line managers. The Male Champions of Change, refer to this as the ‘leadership lottery’.[385]

Research found that support from direct managers was often more important than an organisation’s policies and procedures.[386] ‘Good employers’ were identified as those who understood parental responsibilities, such as child sickness and school holidays, and not just those with good written policies.[387]

My workplace has very good leave conditions for maternity and parental leave. They also have flexible work arrangements in place, which I was told I could access if necessary/wanted on return to work. The problem is that all flexible work arrangements are at manager’s discretion and despite several attempts to discuss the issue, all meetings with my manager ended with him coming to the conclusion that it was just too hard to implement in my role. There is a disconnect between the policies that are in place to support pregnant women and new mothers returning to work...and the cultural practices that actually go my workplace...implementing flexible work arrangements often just seems to be ‘too much bother’, and you end up feeling like a burden and think twice about raising concerns.[388]

I thought the certified agreement would help me but the manager just kept saying 'I have no work for a two day per week manager' - there was no flexibility and I had offered numerous options/opportunities but she just couldn't/wouldn't consider.[389]

[Female employee denied flexible arrangements on return to work.] My experience also highlighted some staff have rights and some don't. Often this was about your relationship with the people in power...and your own position and the power it affords you.[390]

In addition, women and men said that issues sometimes arose when new managers failed to honour parental leave or return to work arrangements previously agreed with a former manager.

I found childcare for my daughter and arranged to meet my manager the week before I was due back at work as we had verbally agreed I could work part-time when I returned. However, I discovered my old boss had left and there was a new marketing manager. He told me yes, I was welcome back but it had to be full-time or not at all. I could not find full-time childcare and I had to resign.[391]

Before I went on maternity previous manager was really good. When I first came back...he said, we want to keep you, what can we do? I said I’d like to go part-time and...I’m happy to go casual. He said to me, no, you should choose part-time because you’ll get all your entitlements, you’ll need that with kids...we had a new manager come in ...and he’s been very opposite...made it really flexibility.[392]

Zhi had a two year old son with a disability and negotiated part-time work in order to be able to take him to his various appointments. She was then told that the arrangement was being reviewed as there was a new manager. She felt very anxious about this meeting and thought about resigning so she didn’t have to go through it.[393]


Dina worked in a position which involved the use of a work car. She had been there for five years. When she returned from parental leave with her second child, she arranged to bring him to work with her so that she could breastfeed him, which was supported for approximately four months. When a new manager started, Dina was asked to sign her contract and was told it was just paperwork as it was not on file. Dina did not have time to read what she was signing, and the manager was standing over her with a pen. The next day the manager told Dina that she could no longer bring her baby to work, that part of the contract was a vehicle policy stating that only company employees could be taken in company vehicles, and that her baby did not count as a company employee. Dina explained that her baby was too small for childcare and was exclusively breastfed. Her manager said ‘That is your parenting responsibility, not ours. There is always formula’. Her manager said that if she couldn’t leave the baby at home she would have to be demoted to a different position. [394]

In essence, an employer can have ‘best practice policies’ which, if not well implemented, they can undermine an organisation’s efforts to develop an inclusive and diverse workforce.

(d) Early childhood education and care services

The National Review frequently heard of issues relating to early childhood education and care services as a constraint on returning to work after parental leave. Many concerns were raised regarding the limited availability, accessibility, affordability of quality early childhood education and care services in Australia.

Working parents said that their availability to return to work and the arrangements under which they did so depended on the availability and cost of early childhood education and care services. Further, a survey of 720 Human Resource professionals by the Australian Human Resource Institute found that one in five respondents (20%) reported local affordable childcare as the single most significant support that would assist in accommodating parents returning to work, with another 13% indicating a preference for onsite childcare.[395]

The Australian Work and Life Index 2012 survey found that one of the key reasons for women and men requesting flexible work arrangements is to meet childcare needs.[396] It also found that ‘mothers are much more likely to request flexibility to meet childcare needs (34.1% compared to 20.7% of fathers)’.[397]

I appealed to the company to allow fulltime flexible hours by requesting to work on fixed days rather than rotating roster. It was near impossible to find childcare overnight and to cover a full 12 hours shift while I worked on changing days every week and on weekends.[398]

After one year of working at only five hours a week I was told I had to return to three or five days, no childcare was available in the town I live and work in, so hence I resigned.[399]

Due to my relatively low wage, working full-time would not be worth it when I factor in childcare costs.[400]

I would like to point out the particularly difficult position teachers are placed in in regards to childcare and part-time work...Even at 0.5FTE I was working across five days, which meant my daughter had to be enrolled in full-time childcare and I had to pay full-time childcare rates whilst doing part-time work. This is another barrier to returning to work...childcare becomes unaffordable and women [can be] forced to remain at home.[401]

In addition, some women and men said that their employers lacked awareness and understanding of the practicalities with securing childcare and making any changes to arrangements. Lack of support from employers sometimes generated resentment and impacted on workplace relationships.

[On return to work] I advised my employer that it would be difficult for me to work full-time due to the [limited] availability of childcare, and that it was my preference to work four days per week. This request was rejected, at which time I asked for a flexible working arrangement that would see me working the hours of a five day week over four days, which was also rejected.[402]

I have been unsuccessful in gaining childcare for a particular day and my manager has refused my leave applications on these days to care for my children knowing that I had no childcare available for them. [403]

Childcare is notoriously hard to juggle as we the parents have to fit in with the childcare centre ie shuts down on Christmas holidays for several weeks, can’t take kids early if have an early start at work etc. If you bring these dilemmas to work they just tell you to handle it. I would rather quit my job than have to deal with the difficulties in juggling both, and really reaping no monetary rewards as all of my pay now goes to childcare.[404]

In some cases the days available in the early childhood education and care service do not align with the work days required by employers, or the hour restrictions of early childhood education and care services may impact an employee’s work hours. Further, after-hours care services can be very expensive or hard to find, making night shifts or weekend work difficult for parents. In other cases, the high costs of childcare mean that employees elect not to return to work for financial reasons. According to employers:

One of the key challenges is the availability of childcare when the parent is ready to return to work. Childcare is then often unaffordable - meaning the parent cannot resume work or does not stay for long.[405]

[When employees can’t find childcare], that’s when we find people don’t return...It just doesn’t work...They’ve done the maths and it’s better not to come back. Just working to pay someone to look after the child isn’t worth it so they might as well look after the child themselves.[406]

[We] have a security service which is 50% female but they start to self-select out because they can’t find the childcare for the afternoon shifts.[407]

The cost of childcare has been identified as a significant barrier to higher female workforce participation in Australia.[408]

3.4 Nature and consequences of discrimination for specific groups

The experiences of people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disability, same-sex parents, single parents, young mothers, and casual, contract and part-time workers highlighted the additional barriers and impacts faced as a result of the intersection of pregnancy, parental leave and return to work discrimination with other factors, including cultural background, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, age, and the nature and status of employment.

(a) Parents from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds

People from CALD backgrounds, particularly newly arrived migrants and refugees, can face heightened vulnerability to discrimination throughout pregnancy/return to work, due to language barriers and a lack of experience and knowledge of workplace rights and entitlements. Language barriers can also make it difficult for them to assert their workplace rights.

American research has highlighted the intersection of race and pregnancy discrimination for mothers with low incomes. Women of colour in the United States may be treated less favourably than white women with similar caregiving responsibilities.[409] An example included being denied accommodations routinely granted to other co-workers of a different race. [410]

In Australia, during the early years, newly arrived migrant and refugee women tend to be in insecure employment, such as contract or casual work. While long term casual and contract employees are able to access entitlements to paid parental leave and flexible work, casual employees with inconsistent patterns of work are not. As a result, migrant and refugee women working less regularly were not able to access any form of parental leave entitlements, including guarantees to return to their jobs after having a baby.

Migrant and refugee women hesitated to raise concerns in relation to their pregnancy and some just left their jobs when they had their babies. Their experience is made even more difficult given that some migrants and refugees are unable to access welfare entitlements if they have been living in Australia for less than two years.

Marla was employed as a casual factory worker and has limited English language skills. She feared the loss of her job, as was experienced by previous pregnant colleagues, and so concealed her pregnancy and worked in unsafe conditions until she could no longer conceal her pregnancy. Her employment was ultimately terminated.[411]


Migrant and refugee fathers were also reluctant to request flexible work because they did not want to risk losing their jobs and potentially leaving both parents unemployed.

The National Review heard some employers may assume migrant and refugee workers were not aware of their rights.

When I was pregnant my boss asked me to cut down my hours, even though my doctor said it was OK to keep working. When I finished work to have the baby my boss told me that they couldn't guarantee that I would get my job back after I had my baby, effectively firing me...Other women were lied to by management about their pregnancy rights, for example, one lady was told that the hotel doesn't ‘do Paid Parental Leave’...The hotel hires migrant women thinking that they don't know their rights. The exploitation of migrant women is widespread in the hotel industry in Australia and pregnant migrant women suffer the most.[412]

During a consultation, Sopheap, a young migrant woman said that she had found information online that employers were not allowed to ask applicants whether they had any children. However, during a job interview this was one of the first questions asked by the potential employer. She also said that it was only after the potential employer was convinced that she would be available to work full-time did she continue to proceed with the interview. She got the job but felt too scared to request flexible arrangements to look after her daughter.[413]


The need for newly arrived migrants and refugees to secure and retain paid work, compounded by ‘their lack of Australian experience and sometimes-limited English’,[414] exposes women from this sector of the community to an increased risk of discrimination throughout pregnancy/return to work. This highlights the need to provide targeted information in other languages on the rights and entitlements of migrant and refugee parents in the workplace.

(b) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents

The key issues Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people highlighted in their submissions and during consultations included insecure employment and access to paid parental leave, culturally appropriate early childhood education and care services and accommodation of kinship caring responsibilities.

With regards to employment and access to paid parental leave, research shows that workforce participation rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women while pregnant with their first child are comparably low.[415] In addition, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers had higher rates of exiting employment and relatively low rates of re-entering employment when compared with non-Indigenous mothers. [416]

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women said they already have children by the time they start work.[417] Some women in insecure employment, particularly within the community sector, were unable to access employer and government paid parental leave. [418] This put financial pressure on women to return to work early.

Further, the consultations identified the need for increased access to Aboriginal community and on-site childcare, including in urban areas. [419] Research shows that early childhood education and care services which affirmed and celebrated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture were of great importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers.[420]

A particular need was identified for flexible work arrangements to accommodate the kinship responsibilities which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees may have to care for the children of other family members as well as for their own.[421] Leave and flexible work arrangement provisions did not always accommodate such obligations, as there is a lack of understanding in workplaces about these wider kinship responsibilities.[422]

Very few Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men take parental leave. It is also not common for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fathers to take leave or work flexibly to care for children. Some fathers who do take leave or work flexibly to care for their children reported being stigmatised by female colleagues. One man was questioned, ‘What do you know about being a father?’[423]

(c) Parents with disability

There is limited research available on the experiences of pregnant women with disability and parents with disability in employment.[424] A contributing factor to this could be the higher levels of underemployment and unemployment amongst people with disability. In 2009, the labour force participation rate for people with disability aged 15 to 64 years was 54%, compared with 83% for people without a disability.[425] In addition, women with disability (49%) are less likely to participate in the labour force than men with disability (60%).[426]

Mothers with a disability or medical conditions were less likely to enter employment, if not working, as were those in families with at least one disabled child, or families including someone else with a disability. Higher rates of exiting employment were also apparent for mothers with children or other household members with a disability. Mothers with a disability were slightly more likely to exit employment than other mothers. [427]

In addition, women with disability can face significant social pressure from the community and families not to have children[428] and not to exercise their reproductive rights. [429] Financial constraints have also been identified as a deterrent for women with disability having children.

Lack of financial support, coupled with the higher cost of parenting with a disability has been identified by a number of researchers as a significant barrier to women with disabilities who are parents, or seeking to become parents.[430]

Clearly, gender and disability intersect in a number of ways. Women with disability are more likely to be engaged in low paid, casual work, with no job security or access to entitlements such as paid parental leave.

Under the Disability Discrimination Act (Cth) (1992) employers are required to make reasonable adjustments for employees with disability, including making reasonable adjustments for pregnant employees with disability and parents with disability. A lack of clarity exists in the National Disability Insurance Scheme as to the available coverage for pregnant women with disability, as well as what adjustments can be provided to support people in work.

The lack of local accessible early childhood education and care services, as well as before and after-school care, also poses practical limitations for mothers with disability, impinging on their capacity to be in employment.[431]

To increase the participation of pregnant women with disability and parents with disability in the workplace, consideration needs to be given to accommodating specific needs during pregnancy and on return to work, including offering flexible work arrangements.

(d) Same-sex parents

Same-sex parents are still a small minority in Australia and there is limited research and literature about the experiences of same-sex parents in workplaces in relation to pregnancy, parental leave and return to work.[432]

While a range of legal amendments have been made, recognising equal enjoyment of employment conditions, including accessing leave entitlements to care for family members and parental leave to care for a newborn child,[433] prevailing stereotypes around parenthood continue to limit understanding of non-stereotypical situations and impact on women and men in same-sex relationships.[434]

[After returning from leave following an IVF miscarriage] I informed [my manager] that I had a ‘mrs’ and not a husband [and] he didn’t know what I meant. When I again stated I have a ‘mrs’, my partner is female he exclaimed ‘no-one told me that’...I have since found out...that he has referred to my miscarriage as an abortion, which is grossly inaccurate.[435] My employer did not believe I had a right to request flexible working conditions because I was not the birth mother of our children. I had to challenge their decision and attitudes and threaten to take the matter further. Reluctantly, flexible working conditions were approved but I experienced repercussions in the form of snide comments and bullying as a result.[436]

When I was three months pregnant, I told my manager and he was very supportive of me during my pregnancy...It was Human Resources who were not very supportive...Instead I was met with serious tones, uncordial attitudes, shortness and procedure...I caught up with my manager a couple times during [that] leave to check in about work and the project. We discussed me returning to work part-time to do a job-share so that I could spend time home. He said he thought this sounded like a great idea...when the time came to notify work that I wanted to return, I put in the request as discussed with my manager....It was rejected right away...I was forced to resign...Neither my partner nor I like that this system we live in requires there to be a 'primary' parent. We are both primary, we are equally important parents, we both need to spend quality time with our daughter, we both have interesting and rewarding careers, we both need to make money.[437]

(e) Sole parents

Sole parents said they faced longstanding stigmas and stereotypes about sole parenthood, which manifested as negative attitudes from managers and colleagues in relation to their ability to juggle work and care for a child without a partner. [438]

Staff question the legitimacy of a manager working four days a week. They have advised me that they think it is inappropriate that someone with a child - particularly a single parent - be in my position...I also experience heavy criticism from staff when I have to take time off if my daughter is sick...My concern is that I...feel I have to compensate for these views...that I am somehow a burden on the organisation and therefore should give more to prove my worth.[439]

When I informed my direct line manager (the CEO) of my pregnancy...he was less than enthused...he proceeded to inform me that I would ‘not be able to do my job with a child, as it was not as if there was a stay at home father to look after it’.[440]

Sole parents also experienced discrimination during the recruitment process. Applicants were asked about their marital status and if they had children. Those that responded truthfully felt that they were then seen as less attractive applicants but found the discrimination difficult to prove.[441]

I thought...singing out my praises as a single mother who completed a law degree was a good thing to do on my job applications...interestingly enough as soon as I took that sentence out...I actually started getting responses.[442]

Some sole parents were denied flexible work arrangements. Lack of access to early childhood education and care services and workplace inflexibility placed extra pressures on sole parents on return to work.[443]

Jon has been employed as a bus driver for over six years on a permanent full-time basis. When he originally went for the job he was told that he would be required to work every second weekend. Jon’s employer is now claiming he has to work every weekend. He can’t do this as he has custody of his children every second weekend. Jon has asked the employer to explain why the change is required and he has again explained that he still needs every second weekend off but he has not received any response from the employer.[444]


Katie works on a casual full-time basis as a console operator at a service station. She is a single parent and her child is in childcare when she is at work. Katie’s childcare provider is closed over the Christmas period and as a result she is not able to work because she has to look after her son. The employer has told Katie that if she isn’t available on a full-time basis over the Christmas period, she is of no use to him and she won’t be getting offered shifts in the future.[445]


Sole parents said that they were denied leave to care for their children and did not have access to adequate leave. It was common practice to conserve leave, even when unwell, in case they needed to take leave to look after their sick children.

The single most discriminatory workplace issue, from my experience as a single parent with children, is that personal leave quotas encompass both sick leave for the employee as well carer's leave. This means for someone like me, I have the same leave quota as a person with no carer responsibilities, but my quota has to cover off four people...I have had to attend work when I have been ill because I needed to preserve enough leave for my children if they became ill or had an accident. It has been a constant struggle.[446]

I recently was denied leave to care for my daughter who was home from school sick, as a single mother I have very limited resources for care for my daughters if they are home from school unwell if my mother is unavailable.[447]

Single mothers reported having high work-life pressures which can add to heightened levels of stress for sole parent households.[448]

As a single parent without family in my city I have limited childcare options, so I cannot work full-time. Therefore issues like my lower superannuation savings than childless or male colleagues continue. I work five days a week, and higher hours than I can reasonably sustain, in order to keep my standing in the workplace good and maximise my career opportunities. As a result, I am constantly exhausted, and I cannot pay the attention to my children’s school work, health needs or my health needs than I would like.[449]

[After returning to work following parental leave] I wanted to come back part-time...I’m a single parent, so I said I can’t work shift work. [The employer] said, no worries, you can go to the front office as a uniformed member...which is a loss of money, loss of position and entitlement and whatever.[450]

I'm a sole parent caring for a toddler that gets recurring viruses and has been diagnosed with acute asthma...I have no family support as they live interstate. Currently I have agreed to work one late shift a week on a Monday until 6pm... I feel extremely pressured to work this shift.[451]

(f) Young parents

The lack of experience and knowledge of employment rights can make young parents vulnerable to discrimination, such as receiving less shifts or hours after announcing pregnancy, being refused flexible arrangements on return to work, and job dismissal.

After being at my full-time job two years before falling pregnant with my first son, I was told I would be able to return to work part-time. I took 1 year maternity leave. A few weeks prior to my return, my boss phoned me and told me that I could no longer return part-time, it was to either return full-time or resign. Being only 19 years old and in and out of support houses/programs this was very scary and I was caught off guard...The cost of childcare for my two children five days per week is more than the cost of my rent per week...that’s with the childcare rebate! ...I don't want to have to rely on government funds and tax payers money, I like to earn my way but it’s just so difficult to do so. It's tough for young mothers trying to return to work. [452]

Research shows that younger mothers had lower employment rates than other mothers, were more likely to be in casual jobs, less likely to be employed while pregnant with their first child, and are at greater risk of remaining out of employment later.[453] Despite being less likely to be employed, younger mothers worked more hours than other mothers.[454]

Greater understanding of rights and entitlements could contribute to better employment outcomes and reduced vulnerability to discrimination for young working parents.

(g) Casual and contract workers

In 2012-13, women represented 55% of casual workers.[455] A large proportion of parents working in insecure work in Australia are women. Casual and contract employees are vulnerable to redundancies and job loss while pregnant and on return to work. The impact of this was lack of job and financial security, and stress on the individuals and their families.

I am currently 24 weeks pregnant working casually at a retail company who has decreased my hours from the second I told them I was pregnant at 12 weeks...I have tried explaining I needed the hours for more money, to build hours to receive paid leave and to help other stores cover shifts. Still nothing has changed...every team member received extra shifts except for myself. I feel like I am being pushed out of my job which I need to support my family...It makes it much harder for myself to find another job as retailers won’t hire a pregnant woman.[456]

My pregnancy cost me my job. I had been working in Government Departments on contracts for eight years and the contract was always extended with no questions asked...I was only notified of the decision not to extend me on the day before the end of my contract...The stress of starting my motherhood journey with no job to return to placed me and my husband under enormous stress and I suffered debilitating post-natal depression.[457]

I am now due to go back after 6 months on mat and annual leave, but my contract expires in two weeks...I was advised to take annual leave to the end of my contract, as there was no position for me to go back to. Once my contract expires I won't be able to apply for any internal government positions, I will also lose any continuity of service, long service and the sick leave. I am extremely disappointed as well as concerned as I still have the mortgage to pay![458]

The job insecurity really put the brakes on our family plans...My biggest concern was the fact I wouldn't have a guaranteed part-time role to come back to. No matter how much I tried to talk myself into just jumping in, I couldn't get past the need to provide any children we have with some level of financial security. It caused me a fair amount of anxiety and I spent a lot of time looking for a permanent role...I just wanted to make this submission to highlight how job insecurity can impact on this issue.[459]

My contract is not being renewed because I am pregnant, and this has been clearly stated by the organisation...I have been faced with distinct unwillingness to even think of allowing me unpaid maternity leave, and my contract renewed when I am able to return to work. As far as my work is concerned, I wrote my resignation when I told them I was pregnant.[460]

Koula has worked as a casual for three years in a community care facility. She has worked 15-30 hours per week during this time. Last month a new manager commenced, and Koula announced her pregnancy. The new manager cut Koula’s hours to three per week and has refused to guarantee her any hours at all. When she questioned this she was told she was a casual worker and they wouldn’t guarantee hours.[461]


Minna was employed by a labour hire company on a casual basis working almost full-time hours in factories for three years. After Minna advised her employer that she was pregnant her employer stopped offering her shifts on the grounds that there was no light work available. Minna had to move back in with her parents, sell all her belongings and considered having an abortion because she was no longer receiving an income.[462]

Given that young mothers, women from CALD backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are more likely to be in casual jobs the challenges and negative impacts that casual and contract workers experience are also likely to be especially relevant to these groups.

(h) Flexible workers

Separate from casual and contract workers, the National Review heard that employees on flexible work (ie part-time work, jobshare, working from home, changes to start and finish times etc) experienced negative attitudes from managers and colleagues (eg perceived as being less committed, capable and serious about work in comparison to full-time employees), unconscious bias as well as direct forms of discrimination because they did not work full-time.

I continuously have had to deal with prejudiced statements on what a part-time person can do. There is still very much a culture of ‘part-time person: part-time brain’.[463]

The company has recently confirmed that there will be no possible career progression within the company for any part-time senior staff. They have raised this on the grounds that because I am not able to participate in late afternoon events such as Friday evening staff drinks I am not able to fully mentor junior staff and am hence not supportive of the existing office culture. The management of my company have coined this in the following terms: ‘that part-time staff are not a constructive part of the current office culture’. Given this recent position statement I have been forced to resign from my job.[464]

My husband is a manager in the department and there appears to be the view that flexible working arrangements are not appropriate for managers. When he approached his boss about the possibility of working four a days a week...he was given reluctant verbal approval to his request. He was told how working four days a week would negatively impact on the workplace. He was made to feel guilty about requesting flexible working arrangements.[465]

Flexible workers also said that they were threatened with dismissal by their employers if they did not work the hours specified. Further, there was a common perception that part-time work reduces the likelihood of reaching top management and creates additional barriers for women reaching leadership positions.[466]

The company was going through a ‘restructure’ and were making people redundant. Three people from my team were made redundant, a father who came back from 12 months parental leave, a female part-time worker with two children and myself, part-time and pregnant...all three of us sat in the top 10 of high performers, but people who were full-time and under-performing kept their jobs.[467]

As explored earlier, the National Review further heard that, while employers granted parents flexibility on return to work, this sometimes resulted in a reduction in role and salary and poor performance review; ‘Part-time employment represents a trade-off for many women, whereby in return for the opportunity of reduced hours, they tolerate poor conditions’.[468]

I approached my previous employer to see if there would be part-time work. He offered me part-time hours, doing my old job, but two levels lower in the salary scale. He said I had been ‘out of the saddle’ a while and this was all that was available part-time...I have tried to sell the advantages of part-time workers working harder and I have seen the evidence of job share arrangements producing massive productivity. But still the baseless discrimination against flexible work arrangements persists.[469]

I was still granted flexibilities, ie work from home, reduced hours etc but they were in a demoted position and not the one I held immediately before commencing parental leave.[470]

Since I have returned to work part-time I have been treated very differently. My performance review was marked down due to being part-time as my boss is concerned that I can't be given large tasks as I am only here three days a week. I also get lectured when I ask for any additional time off as I am ‘only here three days a week as it is’.[471]

On the other hand, some flexible workers said that their workloads had not been adjusted to their part-time hours and that this caused higher levels of stress.

I have been carrying a full-time workload for a number of years now despite part-time hours. But I still cannot keep up with colleagues without children who work way greater than full-time hours, and work on weekends or later at night as they don't have childcare duties.[472]

Following my return from maternity leave, during the next three months of part-time work, I was given a full-time workload with no concessions given for working three days per week.[473]

The National Review frequently heard that flexible workers missed out on career advancement and training opportunities. They also said that they felt pressure to ‘prove themselves’, despite no issues in performance and being fully committed to their work prior to, and after, having children.

Although I have many skills, much experience and have asked again and again for opportunities to contribute to the workplace, I am told that, because I work part-time, I am unable to take on extra responsibilities...I now run the risk of losing my skills, not keeping up with current trends in leadership and not being as employable in the future because I can't get a part-time leadership job now.[474]

Since taking parental leave, having children and reducing my hours by one day a week, I believe that I have lost significant professional standing – something that I worked very hard for – and have spent the past six years desperately trying to hold onto.[475]

Whilst our organisation reimburses full-time staff for study costs...part-time staff are only reimbursed pro-rata. The argument is that the organisation is only getting for example two days a week worth of their degree so they will only pay 2/5...[476]

Clearly, greater access to flexible work and the creation of more supportive workplaces would not only improve the experiences and job satisfaction of pregnant women and all parents trying to balance their work and family lives, but also shift attitudes away from unhelpful ‘ideal worker’ models which disadvantage workers and organisations alike.

3.5 Conclusion

The National Review’s findings reveal that discrimination towards pregnant women and parents is pervasive in Australian workplaces, with employees often experiencing more than one form of discrimination at a time. These various forms of discrimination have negative impacts not only on affected individuals and their families, in the short and long term, but also on organisations.

Good workplace policies alone are not enough. For most, the difference between a positive and a negative experience lay in the effective implementation of workplace policies by managers and Human Resource departments, and in supportive colleagues and workplaces.

Efforts to dispel assumptions and stereotypes about working parents, parenthood, and the ideal worker will require a change in such systems and cultures. This cultural shift will require countering conscious and unconscious biases, grounding organisational structures and working models on the assumption that men and women at all levels can equally work flexibly to meet their dual obligations at work and at home, and making diversity a part of an organisation’s DNA.[477]

As the following chapter explains, the majority of employers do not set out to discriminate, but instead struggle to balance their legal obligations with the immediate pressures of running a business. Where employers and employees are better able to communicate and understand each other’s needs, they are more likely to be able to develop solutions which work well for all.

[153] Individual submission no. 3.
[154] Individual submission no. 42.
[155] Individual submission no. 17.
[156] Individual submission no. 165.
[157] Individual submission no. 317.
[158] Individual submission no. 263.
[159] Individual submission no. 133.
[160] Individual submission no. 216.
[161] Individual submission no. 235
[162] Individual submission no. 235.
[163] This name is a pseudonym; no real names are used in case studies.
[164] Consultation 8C (Affected women).
[165] Individual submission no. 286.
[166] Individual submission no. 167.
[167] Individual submission no. 296.
[168] Individual submission no. 319.
[169] Individual submission no. 38.
[170] Individual submission no. 184.
[171] Individual submission no. 244.
[172] Individual submission no. 65.
[173] Community organisation submission no. 54 (Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association).
[174] Individual submission no. 115.
[175] Consultation 4A (Affected women and men and community organisations).
[176] Individual submission no. 98.
[177] Community organisation submission no. 40 (Australian Council of Trade Unions).
[178] Community organisation submission no. 7 (National Working Women’s Centres).
[179] Community organisation submission no. 14 (Victoria Legal Aid).
[180] Individual submission no. 61.
[181] Individual submission no. 185.
[182] Individual submission no. 269.
[183] Individual submission no. 51.
[184] Community organisation submission no. 54 (Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association).
[185] UK Government, Health and Safety Executive, ‘New and Expectant Mothers’. At (viewed 1 July 2014).
[186] A Masselot, E Caracciolo di Torella and S Burri, ‘Summary of the Draft Thematic Report of the European Network of Legal Experts in the Field of Gender Equality entitled ‘Fighting pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination: The application of EU and national law in practice in 33 European countries’’, Summary –Workshop 2: Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination (2012), p 1. At: (viewed 14 June 2014).
[187] Individual submission no. 27.
[188] Individual submission no. 176.
[189] Individual submission no. 222.
[190] Individual submission no. 86.
[191] Individual submission no. 152.
[192] Community organisation submission no. 54 (Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association).
[193] Community organisation submission no. 40 (Australian Council of Trade Unions).
[194] Individual submission no. 30.
[195] Individual submission no. 295.
[196] Community organisation submission no. 54 (Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association).
[197] Community organisation submission no. 14 (Victoria Legal Aid).
[198] Consultation 8C (Affected women).
[199] Individual submission no. 263.
[200] Individual submission no. 41.
[201] Consultation 4E (Affected women and men).
[202] Individual submission no. 252.
[203] Individual submission no. 300.
[204] A Masselot, E Caracciolo di Torella and S Burri, ‘Summary of the Draft Thematic Report of the European Network of Legal Experts in the Field of Gender Equality entitled ‘Fighting pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination: The application of EU and national law in practice in 33 European countries’’, Summary –Workshop 2: Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination (2012). At: (viewed 14 June 2014)
[205] Individual submission no. 25.
[206] Individual submission no. 21
[207] Individual submission no. 244.
[208] Individual submission no. 98.
[209] Community organisation submission no. 7 (National Working Women’s Centres).
[210] Consultation 2B (Affected women).
[211] Community organisation submission no. 54 (Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association).
[212] J Renda, J Baxter and M Alexander, ‘Exploring the Work-Family Policies Mothers Say Would Help After the Birth of a Child’ (2009), 12(1) Australian Journal of Labour Economics 65, p 67.
[213] C Halverson, ‘Frome Here to Paternity: Why Men are Not Taking Paternity Leave Under the Family and Medical Leave Act’ (2003), 257 (18) Wisconsin Women’s Law Journal 257.
[214] Consultation 4A (Affected women and men).
[215] Individual submission no. 210.
[216] Individual submission no. 231.
[217] Individual submission no. 13.
[218] Individual submission no. 333
[219] Individual submission no. 212.
[220] Individual submission no. 27.
[221] Community organisation submission no. 54 (Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association).
[222] Individual submission no. 203.
[223] Individual submission no. 295.
[224] Individual submission no. 330.
[225] Individual submission no. 36.
[226] Individual submission no. 297.
[227] Consultation 2B (Affected women).
[228] Individual submission no. 317.
[229] Consultation 8C (Affected women).
[230] Consultation 2B (Affected women).
[231] Individual submission no. 77.
[232] Individual submission no. 266.
[233] P McDonald, K Dear and S Backstrom, ‘Expecting the worst: circumstances surrounding pregnancy discrimination at work and progress to formal redress’ (2008), 39(3) Industrial Relations Journal 229, p 245.
[234] Individual submission no. 41.
[235] Individual submission no. 316.
[236] Individual submission no. 67.
[237] Individual submission no. 42.
[238] Individual submission no. 317.
[239] S Charlesworth and F Macdonald, ‘Hard Labour? Pregnancy, Discrimination and Workplace Rights’, A Report to the Office of the Workplace Rights Advocate (2007).
[240] S Charlesworth and F Macdonald, ‘Hard Labour? Pregnancy, Discrimination and Workplace Rights’, A Report to the Office of the Workplace Rights Advocate (2007).
[241] Community organisation submission no. 37 (YWCA Australia).
[242] Individual submission no. 205.
[243] Community organisation submission no. 26 (Redfern Legal Centre).
[244] Individual submission no. 31.
[245] Individual submission no. 326.
[246] Individual submission no. 297.
[247] Consultation 8M (Affected women).
[248] Community organisation submission no. 7 (National Working Women’s Centres).
[249] Individual submission no. 114.
[250] Individual submission no. 32.
[251] Individual submission no. 8.
[252] Individual submission no. 219.
[253] Individual submission no. 142.
[254] Individual submission no. 303.
[255] Individual submission no. 282.
[256] J Williams, Dilemmas Faced by Hourly Workers, Human Resource Executive Online (2011). At: (viewed 12 June 2014).
[257] Social Policy Research Centre, Women’s Lifework: Labour Market Transition Experiences of Women Final Report, SRPC Report 7/06 (2006), p 6.
[258] Community organisation submission no. 54 (Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association).
[259] Consultation 1V (Affected women).
[260] Individual submission no. 264.
[261] Individual submission no. 264.
[262] Individual submission no. 266.
[263] Community organisation submission no. 7 (National Working Women’s Centres).
[264] Individual submission no. 147.
[265] Community organisation submission no. 7 (National Working Women’s Centres).
[266] Individual submission no. 183.
[267] Consultation 1J (Affected women).
[268] J Renda, J Baxter and M Alexander, ‘Exploring the Work-Family Policies Mothers Say Would Help After the Birth of a Child’ (2009), 12(1) Australian Journal of Labour Economics 65, p 81.
[269] Individual submission no. 181.
[270] Consultation 4E (Affected women and men).
[271] Individual submission no. 49.
[272] Individual submission no. 227.
[273] S Charlesworth and F Macdonald, Hard Labour? Pregnancy, Discrimination and Workplace Rights, A Report to the Office of the Workplace Rights Advocate (2007), p 56.
[274] Individual submission no. 161.
[275] Individual submission no. 237.
[276] Individual submission no. 31.
[277] Individual submission no. 10.
[278] Consultation 4E (Affected women and men)
[279] Community organisation submission no. 7 (National Working Women’s Centres).
[280] Individual submission no. 74.
[281] Individual submission no. 94.
[282] Individual submission no. 299.
[283] Individual submission no. 265.
[284] Individual submission no. 291.
[285] S Benard and SJ Correll, ‘Normative Discrimination and the Motherhood Penalty’ (2010), 24 Gender & Society 616.
[286] Individual submission no. 134.
[287] Community organisation submission no. 54 (Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association).
[288] Community organisation submission no. 54 (Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association).
[289] Individual submission no. 21.
[290] Individual submission no. 226.
[291] Individual submission no. 206.
[292] Community organisation submission no. 20.
[293] Individual submission no. 265.
[294] Individual submission no. 1.
[295] Individual submission no. 309.
[296] Individual submission no. 315.
[297] Individual submission no. 279
[298] Individual submission no. 297.
[299] Individual submission no. 177.
[300] Individual submission no. 59.
[301] Individual submission no. 76.
[302] Consultation 4A (Affected women and men).
[303] Consultation 4E (Affected women and men).
[304] Individual submission no. 184.
[305] Consultation 4E (Affected women and men).
[306] beyondblue, The business case for taking action, (viewed 15 June 2014).
[307] beyondblue, The business case for taking action, (viewed 12 June 2014).
[308] Individual submission no. 145.
[309] Individual submission no. 79.
[310] Individual submission no. 299.
[311] Individual submission no. 42.
[312] Consultation 8D (Affected women).
[313] Individual submission no. 290.
[314] Community organisation submission no. 14 (Victoria Legal Aid).
[315] The gender gap in retirement incomes and savings has been found to bear serious implications for women in terms of an acute vulnerability to poverty in retirement. Australian Human Rights Commission, Accumulating Poverty? Women’s experiences of inequality over the lifecyle (2009). At: (viewed 12 June 2014).
[316] Individual submission no. 125.
[317] Individual submission no. 268.
[318] Australian Human Rights Commission, Accumulating Poverty? Women’s experiences of inequality over the lifecyle (2009). At: (viewed 12 June 2014).
[319] Australian Human Rights Commission, Investing in care: Recognising and valuing those who care, Volume 1: Research Report (2013), p30. At (viewed 14 June 2014).
[320] Ernst & Young, Untapped opportunity: The role of women in unlocking Australia’s productivity potential (2013), p 5. At:$FILE/EY-Untapped-opportunity-The-role-of-women-in-unlocking-Australias-productivity-potential.pdf (viewed 12 June 2014).
[321] Australian Human Rights Commission, Investing in care: Recognising and valuing those who care, Volume 1: Research Report (2013). At (viewed 14 June 2014).
[322] Suncorp-ASFA, Suncorpo-ASFA Super Attitudes Survey (2012), pp 1-16.
[323] R Clare, Developments in the level and distribution of retirement savings (2011), p 10. At: (viewed 14 June 2014).
[324] P McDonald, K Dear and S Backstrom, ‘Expecting the worst: circumstances surrounding pregnancy discrimination at work and progress to formal redress’ (2008), 39(3) Industrial Relations Journal 229, p 244.
[325] P McDonald, K Dear and S Backstrom, ‘Expecting the worst: circumstances surrounding pregnancy discrimination at work and progress to formal redress’ (2008), 39(3) Industrial Relations Journal 229, p 244.
[326] Individual submission no. 294.
[327] Individual submission no. 141.
[328] Individual submission no. 6.
[329] Individual submission no. 139.
[330] Consultation 1U (Individual interview)
[331] Consultation 8F (Affected women and men).
[332] Individual submission no. 32.
[333] Individual submission no. 210.
[334] S. McRae, ‘Constraints and choices in mothers’ employment careers: a consideration of Hakim’s Preference Theory’, 54(3) British Journal of Sociology 317 (2003), p 5.
[335] M Rose, ‘Working Paper 1: Transitions and Careers, Economic and Social Research Council’, Closing Down a Work Career – Housework, Employment Plans and Women’s Work Attitudes (2001).
[336] Individual submission no. 72.
[337] Consultation 8F (Affected women and men).
[338] Individual submission no. 59.
[339] Australian Council of Trade Unions, Lives on hold: unlocking the potential of Australia’s workforce: The report of the Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work in Australia (2012)
[340] Individual submission no. 143.
[341] Individual submission no. 150.
[342] Ucchino v Acorp [2012] FMCA 9.
[343] Ucchino v Acorp [2012] FMCA 9 [33].
[344] Ucchino v Acorp [2012] FMCA 9 [4, 67].
[345] Individual submission no. 105.
[346] Consultation 4E (Affected women and men).
[347] Consultation 4E (Affected women and men).
[348] Consultation 4E (Affected women and men).
[349] Individual submission no. 297.
[350] Consultation 4E (Affected women and men).
[351] Individual submission no. 34.
[352] Individual submission no. 48.
[353] Individual submission no. 55.
[354] Individual submission no. 114.
[355] For example, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, art 5. See also S Cusack, ‘Gender stereotyping as a human rights violation’, OHCHR Commissioned Report (2013), p 44.
[356] CEDAW Committee, R.K.B. v Turkey, UN Doc.CEDAW/C/51/D/28/2010 (13 April 201), para 8.8; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, art 5.
[357] P McDonald, K Dear and S Backstrom, ‘Expecting the worst: circumstances surrounding pregnancy discrimination at work and progress to formal redress’ (2008), 39(3) Industrial Relations Journal 229, p 230.
[358] P McDonald, K Dear and S Backstrom, ‘Expecting the worst: circumstances surrounding pregnancy discrimination at work and progress to formal redress’ (2008), 39(3) Industrial Relations Journal 229, p 244.
[359] P McDonald, K Dear and S Backstrom, ‘Expecting the worst: circumstances surrounding pregnancy discrimination at work and progress to formal redress’ (2008), 39(3) Industrial Relations Journal 229, p 245.
[360] Individual submission no. 114.
[361] Individual submission no. 316.
[362] S Bornstein, J C. Williams and G R. Painter, ‘Discrimination against Mothers Is the Strongest Form of Workplace Gender Discrimination: Lessons from US Caregiver Discrimination Law’, 28(1) International Journal of Comparative Labour Law 45, p 52.
[363] S Bornstein, J C. Williams and G R. Painter, ‘Discrimination against Mothers Is the Strongest Form of Workplace Gender Discrimination: Lessons from US Caregiver Discrimination Law’, 28(1) International Journal of Comparative Labour Law 45, p 54.
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[367] Individual submission no. 281.
[368] Individual submission no. 253.
[369] Kronos Australia, Australia’s Hidden Workforce White Paper (2013). At: (viewed 12 June 2014).
[370] Individual submission no. 67.
[371] Individual submission no. 190.
[372] Individual submission no. 128.
[373] Individual submission no. 62
[374] Individual submission no. 79.
[375] Consultation 2B (Affected women and men).
[376] Individual submission no. 51.
[377] Individual submission no. 31.
[378] Individual submission no. 35.
[379] Individual submission no. 177.
[380] Individual submission no. 212.
[381] Individual submission no. 115.
[382] Individual submission no. 73.
[383] Individual submission no. 59.
[384] Male Champions of Change, Our experiences in elevating the representation of women in leadership: A letter from business leaders (2011), p 28. At: (viewed 14 June 2014).
[385] Male Champions of Change, Accelerating the advancement of women in leadership: Listening, Learning, Leading (2013), p 10. At: (viewed 14 June 2014).
[386] Social Policy Research Centre, Women’s Lifework: Labour Market Transition Experiences of Women, SPRC Report 7/06 (2006), p 49.
[387] Social Policy Research Centre, Women’s Lifework: Labour Market Transition Experiences of Women, SPRC Report 7/06 (2006), p 86.
[388] Individual submission no. 147.
[389] Individual submission no. 40.
[390] Individual submission no. 19.
[391] Community organisation submission no. 40 (Australian Council of Trade Unions).
[392] Consultation 4A (Affected women and men).
[393] Community organisation submission no. 7 (National Working Women’s Centre).
[394] Community organisation submission no. 7 (National Working Women’s Centre).
[395] Employer submission no. 6 (Australian Human Resources Institute).
[396] N Skinner, C Hutchinson and B Pocock, AWALI 2012 The Big Squeeze: Work, home and care in 2012, Centre for Work + Life, University of South Australia (2012), p 65.
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[398] Individual submission no. 68.
[399] Individual submission no. 163.
[400] Individual submission no. 254
[401] Individual submission no. 142.
[402] Individual submission no. 291.
[403] Individual submission no. 255.
[404] Individual submission no. 301.
[405] Employer questionnaire no. 11.
[406] Consultation 1A (Employers).
[407] Consultation 1B (Employers).
[408] J Daley, Game-changers: Economic reform priorities for Australia, Grattan Institute (2012). At: (viewed 12 June 2014)
[409] S Bornstein, ‘Poor, Pregnant, and Fired: Caregiver Discrimination Against Low-Wage Workers’, Center for WorkLife Law (2011), p 2.
[410] S Bornstein, ‘Poor, Pregnant, and Fired: Caregiver Discrimination Against Low-Wage Workers’, Center for WorkLife Law (2011), p 2.
[411] Community organisation submission no. 53 (Women’s Legal Services NSW).
[412] Individual submission no. 275.
[413] Consultation 2A (Community organisations and affected women and men).
[414] Social Policy Research Centre, Women’s Lifework: Labour Market Transition Experiences of Women, SPRC Report 7/06 (2006).
[415] J Baxter, Employment characteristics and transitions of mothers in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, Australian Institute of Family Studies Occasional Paper No. 50 (2013).
[416] J Baxter, Employment characteristics and transitions of mothers in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, Australian Institute of Family Studies Occasional Paper No. 50 (2013).
[417] Consultation 6D (Aboriginal community organisations).
[418] Consultation 1J (Community organisations and affected women and men).
[419] Consultation 1J (Community organisations and affected women and men).
[420] Social Policy Research Centre, Women’s Lifework: Labour Market Transition Experiences of Women Final Report, SPRC Report 7/06 (2006).
[421] Consultation 6D (Aboriginal community organisations).
[422] Consultation 1J (Community organisations and affected women and men).
[423] Consultation 6E (Affected men) .
[424] Women with Disabilities Australia, Parenting Issues for Women with Disabilities in Australia, Policy Paper (May 2009).
[425] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Disability and Work, (viewed 29 May 2014). The current employment rate of people with disabilities in Australia is also lower than the OECD average. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Disability Expectations – investing in a better life, a stronger Australia (2011). At (viewed 14 July 2014).
[426] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Disability and Work, (viewed 29 May 2014).
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[428] J Baxter, Employment characteristics and transitions of mothers in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, Australian Institute of Family Studies Occasional Paper No. 50 (2013).
[429] Women with Disabilities Australia, Parenting Issues for Women with Disabilities in Australia, Policy Paper (May 2009).
[430] Women with Disabilities Australia, Parenting Issues for Women with Disabilities in Australia, Policy Paper (May 2009).
[431] Consultation 1N (Community organisations).
[432] D Dempsey, Same-sex parented families in Australia, CFCA paper no. 18 (2013). At: (viewed 7 June 2014).
[433] Australian Human Rights Commission, Same-Sex: Same Entitlements (2007). At: (viewed 7 June 2014).
[434] J Williams, S Shames and R Kudchadkar, Ending Discrimination Against Family Caregivers, Center for Work-Life Law (2003).
[435] Individual submission no. 87.
[436] Community organisation submission no. 37 (YWCA Australia).
[437] Individual submission no.77.
[438] Community organisation submission no. 39 (Friends of Sole Parents).
[439] Individual submission no. 4.
[440] Individual submission no. 315.
[441] Community organisation submission no. 39 (Friends of Sole Parents).
[442] Consultation 7B (Community organisations and affected women and men).
[443] Community organisation submission no. 39 (Friends of Sole Parents).
[444] Community organisation submission no. 34 (Jobwatch).
[445] Community organisation submission no. 34 (Jobwatch).
[446] Individual submission no. 20.
[447] Individual submission no. 259.
[448] N Skinner, C Hutchinson and B Pocock, The Big Squeeze: Work, home and care in 2012 – The Australian Work and Life Index 2012, p 42. At: (viewed 7 June 2014)
[449] Individual submission no. 43.
[450] Consultation 2B (Affected women).
[451] Individual submission no. 300.
[452] Community organisation submission no. 12 (Young Parents Program).
[453] J Baxter, Employment characteristics and transitions of mothers in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, Australian Institute of Family Studies Occasional Paper No. 50 (2013).
[454] J Baxter, Employment characteristics and transitions of mothers in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, Australian Institute of Family Studies Occasional Paper No. 50 (2013).
[455] Australian Council of Trade Unions, Lives on hold: unlocking the potential of Australia’s workforce: The report of the Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work in Australia (2012).
[456] Individual submission no. 100.
[457] Individual submission no. 304.
[458] Individual submission no. 211
[459] Individual submission no. 64.
[460] Individual submission no. 97.
[461] Community organisation submission no. 7 (National Working Women’s Centre).
[462] Community organisation submission no. 18 (Kingsford Legal Centre).
[463] Individual submission no. 44.
[464] Individual submission no. 123.
[465] Individual submission no. 164.
[466] Mckinsey&Company, Moving mind-sets on gender diversity: McKinsey Global Survey results (January 2014). At: (viewed 27 June 2014).
[467] Individual submission no. 237.
[468] I Campbell and S Charlesworth, Key work and family trends in Australia, Centre for Applied Social Research, RMIT University Background Report (2004), p 48.
[469] Individual submission no. 80.
[470] Individual submission no. 9.
[471] Individual submission no. 39.
[472] Individual submission no. 43.
[473] Individual submission no. 317.
[474] Individual submission no. 162.
[475] Individual submission no. 91.
[476] Individual submission no. 267.
[477] Male Champions of Change, Our experiences in elevating the representation of women in leadership: A letter from business leaders (2011), p 28. At (viewed 14 June 2014).