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Returning Women Losing Out?

30 Nov, 2009

The National Childbirth Trust  has today released a report suggesting that many women returining to work after maternity leave are not receiving the support they need. They surveyed 1,500 women and, together with the charity Working Families ( are proposing measures to address some of the issues. This is a constructive piece of work, (accessible at at taking a realistic look at some of the problems women and their families and employers face - Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive of Working Families, says: "Returning to work when you have a new baby can be very difficult for the new mother and her manager. But the good news is that problems can be avoided by good communications and good planning together. These new guides take mother and manager step by step from early pregnancy, through maternity leave and a successful return to work"

The Daily Mail has covered this under the heading  'Maternity leave 'is wrecking women's hopes of promotion', and implies that the survey is published at the same time as a separate study claims that paid maternity leave can mean women miss out on highflying jobs.

In fact, the second study to which the paper is referring was published by the Research Institute of Industrial Economics in Stockholm ten months ago in January of this year (and updated in February). Entitled 'Why Are There So Few Female Top Executives in Egalitarian Welfare States?' it examines a number of issues, and its primary conclusions are that:

i) broad welfare state policy promotes high female labor force participation, but blunts incentives to pursue top executive positions in the business sector;

(ii) therefore, it is likely to be misleading to use the share of female executives as a proxy for gender equality in welfare states; and

(iii) psychological mechanisms are likely to amplify the effects of policies and institutions.

The full report is available at the Research Institute's website here.

Maternity leave and its effect on women's career prospects has been the subject of much discussion recently, and we certainly need good and accurate research, but spinning it to suit a particular agenda either way is not helpful.