Women given extensive maternity leave are less likely to get top jobs

Women who are given long periods of maternity leave could be damaging their careers, according to research conducted by the Research Institute of Industrial Economics in Stockholm, Sweden.

Why Are There So Few Top Female Executives in Egalitarian Welfare States? showed women from Anglo-Saxon countries, where maternity leave is less generous than that provided in Scandinavian countries, are more likely to climb up the career ladder. For example, British women are more likely to get high-flying jobs than women from Sweden, where only 31.6% of managers are female.

Meanwhile, in the United States, which has no statutory paid leave, women hold 42.7% of the top posts. To qualify for 12 weeks off without wages, staff have to work in the public sector or for a firm that has at least 50 other employees within a 75-mile radius.

The study also claims that if there is too much job-protection for mothers, private firms avoid hiring women, who instead find jobs in the public sector. According to the report new mothers who have a year or more off before returning to work often hit a ‘maternal wall’, and employers assume they are not committed to their jobs and, therefore, limit their opportunities to progress.

The report suggested Harriet Harman, the equality minister, could damage women’s career prospects if she succeeds in raising paid maternity leave to a year.

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