Harriet Harman's plans to extend maternity leave would create a backlash against young women, making it harder for them to reach the top, an LSE sociologist has warned.
The equalities bill, introduced by Ms Harman, Minister for Women, which is making its way through Parliament, aims to protect women in the workplace. It emulates Sweden, where maternity leave has been extended to three years and fathers are forced to take paternity leave.
But in an article for Prospect magazine, published today (19 Nov), Dr Catherine Hakim argues the move would backfire, prompting employers to avoid hiring or promoting younger women.
In The Mother of all Paradoxes, she writes: 'Harman's moves to break the glass ceiling may actually strengthen it.
'The strongest evidence of this problem comes from Sweden—often cited by advocates as offering the ideal system, with long parental leave, the right to work part-time, time off for sick children and so forth. Several studies by Swedish economists have shown that family-friendly employment policies have been the cause of the glass ceiling for women, not the solution to it.'
Employers can suffer when staff take maternity leave, and this would worsen under Harman's proposals, Dr Hakim argues. She says bosses can find it difficult and costly to replace women in senior and managerial roles.
'The current rules are certainly inflexible; they do not make allowance for employers' business needs, nor do they recognise that certain jobs can never truly be made family-friendly,' Dr Hakim writes.
She adds that some private sector employers, especially in the City, regard it as being cheaper in time and money to dismiss a pregnant woman and pay compensation, so that a permanent full-time replacement can be appointed immediately.
In an article in the Fall 2009 issue of The Independent Review, 'Swedish economist Magnus Henrekson confirms that women are much more likely to reach top executive positions in Anglo-Saxon countries—and especially the US, which has only 12 weeks' unpaid maternity leave - than in Scandinavia,' she says.
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19 November 2009