But this week some depressing news reminded us there is still work to be done: a survey conducted by the British Equality and Human Rights Commission found more than a third (36 per cent) of employers think it’s acceptable to ask a woman you are interviewing for a job about her plans to have children.
Six out of ten British employers agree that a woman should have to disclose whether she is pregnant during the recruitment process, and nearly half (46 per cent) think it’s fine to ask a woman candidate, during the recruitment process, if she has young children.
Even more dismal were the surveyed employers’ attitudes towards pregnant women - 44 per cent believe that women who have had more than one pregnancy while in the same job can be a “burden” to their team, and about a third believe pregnant women and new mothers are “generally less interested in career progression” compared to other employees in their company.
Australian employers are no more enlightened.
In 2014-15, 35 per cent of discrimination complaints to the Fair Work ombudsman were pregnancy-related, which amounted to the largest category of complaints (the next biggest were disability-related complaints at 19 per cent).
A 2014 review by the Australian Human Rights Commission found nearly half of mothers reported workplace discrimination while pregnant, on leave, or returning to work after maternity leave.
Almost one in five mothers said they were made redundant, their jobs were re-structured or their contracts were not renewed.
It’s dispiriting news for anyone with a womb, whether or not they intend to use it any time soon.
It is, of course, illegal in both Australia and the UK to discriminate against pregnant women, and it is illegal to ask about child-bearing plans during the interview process.
What the surveyed employers’ attitudes show is that many still treat pregnant women and mothers as nuisances, and maternity leave as an indulgence rather than an entitlement, same as sick leave, superannuation or holiday pay.
It also highlights how modern workplaces are still set up for and by men who rely on the unpaid and unacknowledged (at least publicly) labour of women to keep their families afloat.
While we need employers to throw off their medieval attitudes, we also need men in the workplace to ask for, and then - here is the kicker - actually take their paternity leave.
This would be the quickest way to normalise caring for children as something that can be successfully combined with productive work.
More enlightened bosses know, of course, that working mothers are likely to be the best employees of all. Working mothers cannot afford to waste time (they have none), and they are unlikely to come in nursing hangovers.
They are extra motivated because work is often a welcome relief from the occasional drudgery of parenting.
But what of those employers who cannot be convinced that pregnant women are anything but liabilities?
Perhaps these bosses wish they could only hire men, or post-menopausal women. Post-menopausal women are also risky, though, right? They could have teenage children who are demanding, or, if they’re old enough, grand-parenting duties.
And why stop at discriminating against people who care for children? What about those who care for elderly relatives? They’re going to be distracted and unable to give their full attention to the job too, right?
Best to only hire people who have zero responsibilities in their personal lives, and no attachment to any creature that might pull them away from the sacred realm of paid work.
To those employers, I wish good luck. What a talent pool they will have to recruit from.