Monday, July 14, 2008

BBC NEWS | UK | Maternity leave 'damages' careers

The extension of maternity leave to up to a year may be sabotaging women's careers, the head of the new equality watchdog has warned.

I think having a year for maternity leave (or better yet, parental leave) is great. It's a wonderful thing for the baby to be close to parents, especially mothers, in the first year.

The suggestion that a year-long maternity leave is damaging to careers is a problem with implementation. In Canada, parents are also entitled to take a year AND they can split that year any way they wish. This has had a number of lovely side-effects. A man or a woman can take time off for child-rearing, which hedges against hiring decisions like the one mentioned in the article. Also, we're seeing more and more dads staying home with their babies. It helps to establish a bond and increases the confidence of dads in their child care abilities.

Taking a year off can slow down a career for other reasons. One of them is the "not enough runway" problem. You need to get your career trajectory established early on, otherwise colleagues wonder why you haven't reached the level that you ought to by a certain age. This isn't necessarily a problem just for women or parents, but it's definitely an issue for moms.

Finally, a year of maternity leave sounds like a wonderful thing, and it is. But nuclear families are a recent social configuration. For much of human history, and even current geography, extended family groups are much more common. It's not easy for one or even two people to raise a child by themselves. They really need a social support network around them. So, in this view maternity leave is a kind of modern band-aid for our modern work-life imbalance.

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