Maternity leave could damage women’s careers

Extended maternity leave rights risk sabotaging women’s careers, the head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has warned.

Nicola Brewer, chief executive of the equality watchdog, said the “unintended consequences” of the focus on mothers – rather than shared parental leave – meant some firms were thinking twice about employing women.

While praising increased maternity leave introduced in April 2007, Brewer said not allowing fathers equal rights has presented the UK workplace with “an inconvenient truth”.

“Has policy on maternity leave made too many assumptions about the choices families will make and as a result entrenched the stereotype that it is women who do the caring and men who do the earning?” she asked. “What is the justification for the right to leave from six months still being seen as an issue in the main for women?”

Women can take statutory maternity leave for up to 52 weeks, with statutory maternity pay for up to 39 weeks.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “The idea that extending family-friendly rights would somehow hurt women’s job prospects is a myth commonly peddled by employers who don’t want to employ women of child-bearing age or give male staff time off to spend with their children.

“Proposals to increase flexible working rights to the parents of older children and allow up to six months of maternity leave to be transferred to fathers will help combat these entrenched views about family-friendly rights and will benefit all parents. Increasing paid parental leave will also mean more fathers are able to afford time off.”

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