Do pregnant women suffer prejudice in culture sector?

Caroline Parr, Issue 116/10, p11,

As a report reveals that three-quarters of pregnant women and new mums have suffered

discrimination at work, do museums need to address the issue?

The conditions for expectant and new mums working in museums has come into focus following a government report that found women are facing rising levels of discrimination in the whole workplace.

The report by the Women and Equalities select committee, published at the end of August, found a “shocking and unacceptable” rise in discrimination against pregnant women and those returning to work from maternity leave over the past decade. It revealed that 77% of pregnant women and new mums experience discrimination at work, compared with 45% in 2005.

Tamsin Russell, the professional development officer at the Museums Association (MA), says: “What this report demonstrates is that not all organisations value diversity, equality or inclusion, specifically with respect to women returning to the workforce after maternity leave.

“To my knowledge, we don’t have sector-specific data relating to experience or potential discrimination. However, in a sector in which most of the workforce is female – albeit that we should not automatically assume that all women want children – if the results contained within this report are readily applicable to all sectors, then we all need to address this.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests that, while in many cases the sector’s alignment with the public sector means that the experience of expectant and new mums should be positive, this is not always the case as often their experience of work is mediated through their line manager. However robust and family friendly the maternity, adoptive or parental policies are, the individual line manager canplay a significant role.

One female museum professional, who preferred to remain anonymous, says: “One thing that strikes me is how discretionary it is. The issue of flexible working, part-time hours and so on is down to your line manager.”

She adds that women pay the price of taking time out to have children, in terms of career progression and financially – they lose money during maternity leave and can feel unable to move and progress once they return.

The experience of staff involved in security, catering and cleaning services tends to be even worse, particularly as a growing number of museums and galleries are privatising these services. Terms of employment often include no maternity pay or just statutory levels. No maternity provision exists for staff on zero-hours contracts and freelancers.

Clara Paillard, the president of the Public and Commercial Services Union’s culture sector, says: “Maternity discrimination is a reality for museum workers, and it has been exacerbated by austerity policies and budget cuts.”

Arts Council England, in conjunction with the MA, Museums Galleries Scotland and the Association of Independent Museums, published a report on the museum workforce last month. The report, Character Matters: Attitudes, behaviours and skills in the UK Museum Workforce, shows that despite the fact that women dominate the sector in terms of numbers, there is still an imbalance when it comes to rates of pay.

The report has 30 recommendations but the overarching messages are clear, according to Russell at the MA.“The sector needs to recruit and develop a more diverse, flexible workforce that brings new skills, energy and ideas into the sector by developing their recruitment and line management practice,” Russell says. “Organisations should themselves become more flexible, agile, entrepreneurial and supportive of their workforce.”Russell says that the MA will continue its commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion through its professional development programmes and is looking at additional research areas to support this.