pregnant woman home
In a country like Spain, where the family is highly valued, it is a sad irony that pregnant women are finding themselves increasingly unwelcome in the workplace. Spanish employers are, in fact, the most hostile in Europe to expectant or new mothers, according to a survey done by Monster, the recruitment site.
“Our survey shows that there is a strong impression amongst employers that they do not have to give expectant mothers the support they are legally entitled to in order for them to return to their jobs,” said Monster.es marketing manager Covadonga Soto. “For this reason, many women are finding it impossible to reconcile familial and employment responsibilities.”
These findings are not anomalous. Only seven percent of Spanish companies are ‘family responsible’, according to research by the IESE Business School. Meanwhile, a separate report published earlier this year by the Madrina Foundation claimed that pregnancy is the main reason why a quarter of women between the ages of 18 and 25 lose their jobs. The figure jumps to 50 percent when women ask to work fewer hours after returning from maternity leave or for time off to care for a sick child. Ninety percent of those surveyed said they had been hassled by their employers because of pregnancy, a form of intimidation that has been termed ‘maternal mobbing’.
“Unfortunately, in modern industrial society, pregnancy is viewed as bad news, almost as an illness,” said Conrado Giménez, President of the Madrina Foundation.
“The problem is becoming particularly bad in Latin societies such as Spain because they are gradually adopting a Calvinistic Anglo-Saxon capitalist economic model, when traditionally they have been Catholic and family-supported societies. However, Spain does not have the social welfare system that women in Anglo-Saxon countries enjoy and since employers are not prepared to support this ‘economic burden’, maternal mobbing is becoming increasingly common.”
In Barcelona, the issue was the subject of a special conference earlier this year entitled ‘Maternal Mobbing—Scourge of the New Century’, and was organised by the Grup d’Entitats Catalanes de la Familia (GEC). The conference highlighted a joint report between the IESE Business School and Adecco employment agency, which found that one in five women in prominent leadership positions had either been offered money to leave or resigned from their jobs due to irreconcilable family and employment responsibilities.
“There are companies who simply prefer to hire women over 40 years old or pay the penalty for dismissing a pregnant one rather than supporting or keeping the post open for them,” according to the report’s director Núria Chinchilla. “This mentality, which is deeply rooted in Spanish culture, continues to be one of the main reasons why companies prefer to hire men. Spain is losing a huge amount of professional female talent because of this.”
Silvia Betancourt from France found that shortly after announcing her pregnancy, she was no longer welcome at work in a children’s store in Gràcia. “Within a month of announcing my pregnancy, I was offered €3,000 to leave,” Betancourt told Metropolitan. “I refused, but they said that they were a small company that wasn’t able to financially cope with this kind of ‘situation’, and that the type of temporary contract I had and the fact that part of my salary was paid in black, meant that what they were offering me was more than I would get by law anyway. I ended up being signed-off as depressed by my doctor, and have spent half of my pregnancy attending psychiatrists and taking medication. I was given barely enough money to live on and in the end had to move in with my family.
“I’ve got so much evidence against the employer that I’m sure I’d win if it went to trial but it would take so much time and I don’t want the stress or trauma while I am pregnant. Legally, people should be more protected or at least more informed, because I had no idea this type of thing went on here in Barcelona.”
For some women, the solution has been to start their own company or perform work that can be done at home. But these are options that are open to relatively few and Conrado Giménez of the Madrina Foundation said that the real solution is a general change in attitude amongst employers in Spain.
“Pregnancy should not be catalogued by employers as an illness or problem but rather an opportunity for self improvement on the part of the woman and wealth creation for both the company and society.”
Support groups, and even politicians on a European level, are starting to fight back. The President of the EU’s Commission for Women and Gender Equality has requested that a series of proposals be drafted to address the problem in Spain. The Madrina Foundation has also created the ‘Madrina Network’, which lobbies the European Parliament, provides pregnant women and mothers with information, legal advice and details of job openings in different companies.
Conrado Giménez said the situation is clear. “At the end of the day, it’s a question of priorities. Spain must ask itself—is the family or the economy more important?”
Who decides if a company is 'family responsible'?
“Not only a private issue, but a public responsibility.” This is how Madrid-based organisation Fundación +familia regards the concept of family. The non-profit organisation forms part of an international movement dedicated to promoting family rights in the work-place, and encouraging a better balance between the working and personal lives of employees.
Since 2005, Fundación +familia has been awarding those Spanish firms deemed family friendly with a certificate showing that it is an ‘Empresa Familiarmente Responsable’ (EFR). The criteria these companies have to meet to receive this certification include a commitment to equal opportunities, timetable flexibility and external support offered to workers’ families.
Perhaps predictably, garlanded firms tend to be large and financially very viable. Their numbers include energy companies Endesa and Iberdrola, banks Banesto and BBVA, and food manufacturers Leche Pascual and Coca-Cola.
Fundación + familia
Tel. 902 106 525; www.masfamilia.org
What exactly is mobbing?
Mobbing is an English term that refers to animal (specifically, bird) behaviour; it describes what happens when a group of one species club together to provide a united front when they feel threatened by a stronger predator.
The term was first applied to human practice in the 2005 book Mobbing, Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, when it was used to describe a type of mass bullying in poorly organised workplaces, which usually happened to individuals who were envied and thus considered a threat.
As the term spread to Europe, it was adapted to circumstance and surroundings. In Scotland, it refers to a riotous group acting in an overtly threatening manner. The Germans use mobbing to describe bullying by individuals in the workplace and it is banned by law. In the UK, it is associated with academia as petty rivalries among university staff have given rise to ‘faculty mobbing’.
And in Spain, as well as workplace incidents, it has also been recently associated with real estate: newspapers have reported cases of long-term renters (usually paying a low level of rent) intimidated out of their homes by a series of ‘para-legal’ methods. These can range from harassment to cutting off electricity to even more extreme moves like releasing rats in the flat, all done by the landlord with the aim of selling the property.
Thus, while the meaning of mobbing may differ, its sense remains the same: it implies intimidation and abuse and it is notoriously difficult to deal with and respond to, as there is typically no single or identifiable perpetrator.
What the law says
As it stands at the moment, Spanish law makes very few concessions for new mothers. Among these few are:
- Right to suspend contract New mothers can ask for their contract to be suspended for up to three years. This has to be counted from the day of the child’s birth and also applies to those who have adopted children.
- Right to reduce working hours for breast-feeding During the first nine months following the birth of a baby, the mother is entitled to reduce her working hours to allow for breastfeeding. Alternatively, she can be absent from her daily work to feed her child for a limited amount time agreed on with her employer.
Tel. 902 323 329/91 449 0690
GEC: Pere Vergés 1, 11-13
Tel. 93 313 5689
Ministerio de Trabajo:
Tel. 91 363 0000
First published October 2008.