By Jane Hansen
Head-hunting companies say women should forgo maternity leave if they want their careers to flourish.
Refusing promotion to an employee because she is pregnant is illegal, but leading head-hunters admit mothers are more likely to be promoted to top-level positions, such as chief executive officer or board director, if they do not take maternity leave.
Read Kate Southam's blog on this topic
``You're only the parent of a one-year-old for a short time and if an employee is worried about childcare arrangements, uncomfortable, or worrying who's looking after the baby, then I'm not sure you'll be focused on the job,'' recruitment firm Talent 2's NSW general manager Nicholas Tuckfield said of women who return from maternity leave too early.
Mr Tuckfield, who head-hunts candidates for jobs with salaries of more than $100,000, said taking 12 months' maternity leave in an extremely competitive job market would have a negative impact.
He said at senior executive level, where MBAs were mandatory and long hours par for the course, competition was stiff.
``On a logical level, if you're out of the workforce for 12 months you don't advance your managerial skills and, inevitably, everyone else does,'' he said.
``You don't get to the top doing 37 1/2 hours a week.
``It's highly competitive, and if you're an aspiring rising star and take a year out, your star won't keep rising.''
Julia Ross, who was pregnant when she set up her recruitment agency 22 years ago, said although times were changing, at the executive level it was unforgiving.
``If you're aiming for managing director, stopping and
starting your career will make it tougher to place yourself properly,'' Ms Ross said.
``You may even pass up promotions but, hey, it didn't stop (Westpac chief executive) Gail Kelly, did it?''
Fair Work Ombudsman chief counsel Leigh Johns said more than 70 pregnancy discrimination complaints had been made to the agency since its inception in July last year.
A prosecution has been launched in the case of a 36-year-old mother-of-one who allegedly was told she might not be able to return to her position as clerical worker and that her pregnancy had ``caused inconvenience'' for a printing company.
Several of the complaints, including those arising from employers declining to keep a job open, demotion of someone on parental leave, and refusing promotion to an employee
because she is pregnant, are currently under investigation.
Mr Johns said women needed to be aware of their rights .
``News of impending parenthood should be met with delight, not discrimination,'' he said.
Neil Waters from Egon Zehnder, a company which specialises in placing chief executives, said if a woman was genuinely good at her job she would be given the right to juggle work and pregnancy.
``You can't put a line through someone because they're going to bear a child . . . but there are trade-offs and not everyone can make them,'' he said.
``The CEO becomes the company. It's hard work, 18 hours a day, six days a week, and it's an enormous commitment.''
Other top level executive recruitment officers, such as Heidi Mason from Russell Reynolds, said the findings were a reflection of an old, conservative view which was slowly changing.
``I think there's a perception that there's an impact, but we're starting to respect that men and women who balance their lives make better leaders,'' Ms Mason said.
But the fact remains that only two per cent of chief executive roles are held by women, and men outnumber women on boards by 10 to one.
The NSW Anti Discrimination Board president Stepan Kerkyasharian said there are unwritten rules at play that explain the deficit of women in the upper echelons of business.
``Some recruitment agencies may be complicit in this, a client says to them `no, we don't want a women who might get pregnant' wink, wink, nudge nudge,'' he said.
Article from The Sunday Telegraph, September 19, 2010.