In 2016, Citizens Advice reported a 58 per cent increase in the number of women needing advice on maternity discrimination issues.
Despite employment rights being protected by law whilst on maternity leave, many women worry that taking leave will negatively affect their career.
Here, Claire Leigh director at Brampton Recruitment, discusses how career progression can vary between men and women, and how maternity leave can affect it.
Concerns about maternity leave can stem from worries about career progression. Research by London business school found that often women worry about taking too much time off, losing clients or missing out on promotions. One of the biggest worries faced is maternity pay.
Eligible women are entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave by law, of which 39 weeks can be of paid leave, and the remaining thirteen unpaid. Usually, the first six weeks are paid at 90 per cent of their average weekly earnings (AWE) before tax, and the next 33 at either their AWE or £140.98, whichever is lower.
To be eligible for statutory maternity leave, the mother-to-be needs to have a contract of employment and give the correct notice. To be eligible for paid leave, they need to have worked continuously for 26 weeks and earn at least £113 a week.
Some companies may offer more maternity leave, or a higher rate of pay as a benefit, the details of which will be made available when starting a new role.
Despite employment terms and conditions being protected, including entitlement to pay rises and improvements, many women are still concerned about the effect being off work may have on their career.
Work life balance
Some women find their work life balance changes after having a child and this may reflect in their return. Many wish to re-enter work on a reduced hour contract to assist with childcare, but there is still a high number of women returning to a full-time contract straight away. Regardless, it is in an employer’s interest to support their employees to make their return as smooth as possible.
Well supported maternity leave makes the break manageable, for both employer and employee. When complications arise such as work in sectors where late nights or travelling are common, both parties should work together from an early stage to find a good balance.
It is not just maternity leave that affects a woman’s career progression. If a company has benefits such as longer maternity leave, healthcare, or childcare vouchers, a new mother may prioritise those above moving companies for promotions and pay rises. Employers need to ensure they are offering competitive benefits if they wish to retain their female workforce.
Women face difficult, multi-faceted decisions upon returning to work. How to manage childcare, whether to work full time, and how to reorganise a work life balance are all important decisions. The answers will be different for each woman and her family, so employers should work with the individual to understand what they need and to find a suitable solution.
Return to work
The choices made around how to return to work vary, but the necessity for good planning doesn’t.
Keep in touch days are one way in which women can get their mind back around work, keep up to date with news and developments and integrate smoothly back into the workplace. This option allows the employee to work up to ten days whilst still on maternity leave.
Career progression and maternity leave choices are unique and the surrounding feelings and outcomes are equally individual. There isn’t a universal truth or best practice, but the return to work following maternity leave should not be plagued with expectations and guilt from taking time off.
With cooperation and a supportive employer, there is no need for any disruption to career progression, as planning ahead can allow for avoidance of obstacles in advance.
About the author
Claire has been in HR and Recruitment since 1996 and set up Brampton Recruitment in 2006. Experienced within a full 360 role and having completed the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Programme in 2013 she now has plans to ensure that Brampton are the No1 agency within the Staffordshire and North West regions.