In Brief

IoD chair sparks backlash over 'micro-maternity leave'

Women put their jobs at work by taking so long off after having a baby, says Lady Barbara Judge

Lady Barbara Judge

The Institute of Directors' first ever female chair has provoked a backlash from equality campaigners after telling women to take less maternity leave to protect their jobs.

"Long maternity breaks are bad for women," Lady Barbara Judge told the Women in Wealth Forum.

She also praised the US system, which guarantees 12 weeks unpaid leave, says the Daily Telegraph.

In the UK, women can take up to 52 weeks off after giving birth, with statutory maternity pay available for 39 weeks. Under new laws that came into force this year, men can now share this allowance.

Judge, who was off work for 12 days following the birth of her son, cited the example of a friend who took 12 months away from her job at UK consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser.

However, three months after her friend returned to work, she was the "first" to be made redundant when the financial crisis hit because the company "realised they didn't need her", claimed Judge.

Ben Black, the chief executive of My Family Care, which provides childcare support to employers, agreed. He told iNews: "People were upset with [Judge's] comments because it might not be fair, but it is a practical reality."

However, the likes of Mumsnet, women's rights charity the Fawcett Society and parenting charity NCT criticised her comments, while parenting author Tanith Carey, writing in the Telegraph, said: "The implication that women who use their full allowance are somehow less committed is trickling down through every level."

Maternity leave and the knock-on effects for career progression is often cited as the main reason women earn up to a third less than men on average.

The law protects mothers from being made redundant merely because their work can be covered.

Moreover, campaigners argue the gender pay gap would be closed if men played an active role in early childcare and workplaces offered greater flexibility.

Sarah Jackson, the chief executive of the Working Families charity, said: "All the business evidence shows that well paid, longer maternity leave make for a more successful return to the workforce.  You’re more likely to retain your women and see career progression."

Even the Institute of Directors distanced itself from Judge's remarks, telling The Times its members should "do everything they can to make sure having a family is never a barrier to career progression".

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