Having a baby is one of the worst things a woman can do for her career.
Women who take time off work to have children are being screwed over by their bosses, according to an alarming new survey.
Despite many companies paying lip service to the idea of a "flexible" workplace, a new survey of 1000 Australian women, interviewed anonymously, tells a different story.
Many women gave horrifying examples of being made redundant while pregnant or shortly after giving birth.
"I was asked to attend a meeting to discuss my 'return to work options' and when I arrived, I was told my role was redundant," one woman said.
"In actual fact, my maternity cover had been hired into a newly created role, which sounded very like my role with a different title, and I was simply discarded with no options offered to me at all."
Another woman was told to her face that having a baby was going to damage her career.
"My manager basically told me that I'll be less reliable because I have a young child to care for now, and that I should bow out gracefully so someone else could keep their job. I had been planning to return to work full-time," she said.
The report commissioned by jobs website Flex Careers found that only 50 per cent of new parents feel adequately supported by their employer. Sixty-five per cent said their experience of pregnancy, parental leave and return to work has significantly affected their mental health and 71 per cent said the ordeal had significantly reduced their confidence and self-belief.
More than 12 per cent of respondents were contacted while on parental leave to be told their role was redundant, and a further 3 per cent were made redundant shortly after announcing their pregnancy.
The most heartbreaking stat from the survey revealed that 65 per cent said how they were treated put them off returning to or remaining in the workforce.
"The strong theme during our interviews is that pregnant women, and those on parental leave or with very young children, feel that they were selected for redundancy not based on their role, but based on personal factors," the report says.
"Women feel they are a perceived 'risk' or are considered less committed to their work than other members of staff due to childcare responsibilities."
"I joined my company as a graduate, and worked my way up to senior management over 10 years. When I went on parental leave I didn't hear from my leader at all. I emailed him a couple of times, but never heard back — I felt discarded."
"While on parental leave, my line manager invited me to the office Christmas party. While I was with my colleagues, a very senior leader stormed across and demanded to know why I was there, drinking company profits, when I didn't work there anymore. I was so embarrassed."
"I returned to work on the date agreed with my line manager, to find out my role had been made redundant — weeks ago. Neither my manager nor HR had remembered to tell me. I'd gone through all the stress of preparing to return to work and finding childcare, and I arrived to find out my role no longer existed. I was devastated."
"After nearly 10 years at management level I was made redundant. I firmly believe that this was because they could pay me out at my part-time rate rather than a full time or proportional rate. They had another manager in a similar position who, unlike myself was not meeting KPIs or finances, yet they selected me."
"I worked in HR for a company who promotes their key focus on diversity. It is still women in flexible, part-time or on mat leave target first targeted for redundancy across the organisation each time. They are cheap to pay out, easy targets and expendable when the departments are pressured to cut costs."
"There was a senior manager in a large and publicly very flexible employer, with all of the right policies in place. Her son was stillborn at 38 weeks. She had originally intended to take six months off, and then return part-time four days a week (she had a demanding job that she loved and wanted to go back ASAP).
"Her business leader contacted her and asked when she would be coming back. She said the conversation started well, but once he understood that she intended to take a couple of months off to grieve and to physically recover, it went downhill and he said to her that it was normal company policy to only take a couple of weeks for a death in the immediate family and that if she was going to get pregnant again and take time off in the near future, her having months off now would be very difficult to manage."
FlexCareers CEO Natalie Goldman said it was up to bosses to stand up and help crush the barriers to re-entry for women returning to work.
"While there may be laws in place against this type of discrimination, they are not being enforced and things need to change," she said.
"CEOs and leaders need to stand up and abide by the law and not allow this to happen. They need to ensure that they enforce the law through their policies and practices, and ensure that this flows down to their leaders and managers throughout their organisation. They need to call it out when it happens and not stand for it."
Goldman said for a change to happen, the problem needed to be measured, and that was why Flex had launched the survey to measure just how widespread discrimination was.
"By providing hard evidence, data, statistics and real stories, it will work towards changing what is happening to many women every day, with long-term effects on the careers, earning capacity, confidence, their families and more."