The sports sponsorship industry has been thrown into disrepute this week, as a group of athletes have rallied together to call out Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’ ad campaign. Featuring Serena Williams, Nike were attempting to call out gender discrimination across sport, with lines such as “winning 23 grand slams, having a baby, and then coming back for more? Crazy, crazy, crazy”, however with revelations being made regarding maternity prejudice, the sportswear company has come across as simply jumping on the brandwagon.
Alysia Montaño, a middle-distance runner and one of the women calling Nike out, says that her pay was cut, and her contract paused when she told Nike she was pregnant. Her health insurance was also performance-based, meaning if she didn’t compete and win, she’d have no health insurance at a time she needed it the most. Claiming there’s a disconnect between advertisements and reality, she told CBS “they are basically stuffing you down and saying, actually, that’s not really for you, this is for TV.”
This isn’t the first time that the sports industry has come under fire for their approach to maternity, with Montaño claiming they treat pregnancy worse than injury. Something Williams herself observed when the ATP and WTA dropped her ranking from #1 to #453 following her pregnancy, forcing her to work doubly hard to get back to the start. This kind of treatment is typical in many industry’s with women returning to the workplace after pregnancy seen as less capable and less committed. Montano was able to dismiss that myth when she won two national titles within 10 months of giving birth, however, unfortunately, for many women they aren’t given the chance to prove themselves.
Despite laws attempting to prevent it, women face discrimination at every stage of their pregnancy, with almost half earning less than they did before they had children and 1 in 20 being made redundant. However, due to the high cost and high pressure of raising a tribunal claim against these unlawful acts, only 0.6% of women exercise their right to do so. Unfortunately, this means that companies become confident enough to continue the practices, meaning that since the EHRC completed their report on maternity redundancies four years ago, a further 189,487 women have lost their jobs.
The Pregnant Then Screwed Campaign, a company which offers free legal advice, a mentor scheme and a flexible working helpline, curates women’s stories of discrimination and inequality, with their pages full of horror stories, like stress-induced premature labour, depression and miscarriages. However, for the majority, their experiences were slow and insipid, with many being made to feel like they were being gaslighted. This discrimination is often due to an unconscious bias, with expectations put onto new mothers that are not put onto new fathers. Often, faux concern strips women of their choice in how to navigate a work-life balance, a factor that was highlighted in the news recently when Joyce Prado, the new Miss Bolivia, was stripped of her crown after becoming pregnant. The body doing so wrote “the rules were in place to protect the ‘family unit’ because of the winners demanding schedule”, and yet the men’s equivalent of the competition ‘Mister World’ has no such rules regarding parenthood.
77% of working mums say they have encountered negative or discriminatory treatment at work and that’s just the mothers that have managed to get a role, as 40% of employers say they would avoid hiring a woman of child-bearing age. This attitude is simply not good enough, for women, or for business. Time and time again, diversity has been proven to be a driving force in success, in fact, according to the McKinsey report, those who prioritise it outperform those who don’t by 35%. So why do businesses continue to punish women for creating the next generation of workers?