Maternity – Britain’s Best Employers

// 30 July 2007

The Guardian has published results of its survey of 250 of the country’s leading employers and their provision for parental leave. They believe that it is the first survey of its kind.

Parental leave is something of a black spot, at least in information terms. Whilst most corporate websites and job offers will proudly trumpet the terms of their pensions schemes, travelcard loans, private healthcare and gym membership benefits it is extremely rare that you find out much about maternity and paternity terms until after you’ve signed on the dotted line. As the report points out, “it would be a brave woman, or man, who asked about parenting benefits at a job interview”. One of the strongest conclusions of the survey is that “this is an area crying out for transparency”.

There is a huge amount of information set out in the report, and it makes for fascinating reading. The broad conclusion is that the public sector leads the way, alongside the IT and manufacturing sectors but that a vast swathe of Britain’s employers – and amongst them some of its biggest and best known firms – do little more than the bare minimum.

Conclusions on priorities for reform included standardisation of ‘parental leave’ rights, rather than division into maternity and paternity:

“exposing more men – including the majority of managers – to the realities of juggling work and early parenthood could drive more improvements in the law and in employer policies. It would also lead, at a stroke, to less victimisation of female job applicants”.

The surveyors were also not convinced about the increasingly common practice of offering ‘back to work bonuses’ – pointing out that it could be seen as an erosion of maternity benefits rather than an enhancement:

“What women need to achieve is good pay during the period they are on leave. The bonus, in effect, withholds some of that money, deferring payment and linking it to an employee returning to work and staying for a certain period. These periods can be quite long. And those who do not return have lost that portion of their maternity pay for good”

It would take forever to go through all the results here, but the information set out includes:

  • An overview of parents’ legal rights

  • Best employers by sector
  • Case studies of individuals and firms – including how the best companies manage to provide, whether it’s worth the cost and issues around flexible working
  • An international comparison of parental leave rights.

Its about time someone had a good look into this – I’d urge everyone to write to their MPs to draw their attention to the survey and start lobbying for better parental leave rights. Better yet, send it to your HR manager and ask them how they measure up!

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