>So, you’re just back from maternity leave…?

>I’ve been back at work about 2 weeks now, after taking 12 months maternity leave. The parental leave conditions where I work are the best I’ve ever seen. They even make up for a lot of other things that the place doesn’t do so well. With the Federal govt’s much-mooted changes to parental leave conditions, and the associated dissection of such making such big news (e.g. this article, warning that taking the longer maternity leave option could harm women’s careers even further), I’m just hoping something progressive and positive actually happens.

It’s confronting to hear about the dearth of maternity (let alone ‘parental’) leave conditions in many countries – particularly the United States! – and I find it appalling that Australia is one of the few nations that does not offer any paid maternity leave to its workers. The Australian offer is up to 1 year unpaid leave; we keep company with Lesotho, PNG, Swaziland, and NZ (!). There’s heaps more about this issue at at the National Foundation for Australian Women’s site HERE.

When viewing a table of the world’s maternity leave entitlements, such as this one from 2001, I’m struck by the fact that just about everywhere is more socially progressive than Oz on this front:

  • Most countries in Africa,
  • Every country in the Americas, except the USA,
  • Most countries in the Asia-Pacific,
  • All countries in Europes (with Scandinavian nations such as Sweden and Norway leading the pack, as usual)

That said, and with acknowledging that these countries have policies in place, I’d be interested in how the policies are accessed and mobilised on the ground. How much backlash attends to taking the leave? What kind of silent discriminations are enacted because you take leave? Just because you can doesn’t always mean your employer or workmates think you should.

Working in academia usually means that this kind of concern is minimised, what with the NTEU and its sterling officers on call, but the university sector is certainly not excluded from dodgey and/or hypocritical behaviour re parental leave. I’ve heard of instances where research fellows have to fight to come back to work part-time after taking maternity leave (the rhetoric of most universities these days promotes staff wellbeing and work/life balance…). I don’t know whether this is discrimination against research-only people (by definition, contract workers) or something more widespread. I know it’s often a ‘grass is greener’ / plain envy situation with the resentment of T&R against research-only staff (I think some of them like to think we just swing around in our chairs all day). As much as lip-service is paid to “track record relative to opportunity” (i.e. looking at someone’s publication or grant-winning run and taking into consideration any time out of academia they might’ve had [parental leave, illness, etc]) in grant applications and performance development guff, I know from a swag of anecdotes and personal experience that many assessment panels and reviewers don’t consider a person’s ‘time out’ of academia at all. Another contender with an uninterrupted CV/publication record will almost always look shinier than someone with big holes in their output and erratic momentum on their CV. Will stop ranting about that now. It’s never a good look.

Given the bulging and often polarised layers of debate surrounding women’s rights and gender issues over the decades, I totally understand burn-out and being overwhelmed by the mass of information and calls for action. It happens to me with regularity. But seeing this kind of protest for equal pay for women still having to take place in 2010 really reboots my consciousness and need to engage with the material. As mentioned before, I’m still finding viable ways to do things, but one of the most pressing elements of the whole process is staying informed (trying to stay informed means shoehorning info-absorption time into the day…something that isn’t always possible right now).


6 thoughts on “>So, you’re just back from maternity leave…?

  1. Libby 11/06/2010 / 7:52 am

    >My workplace offers 12 months PAID maternity leave which is pretty generous compared to the average organisation. A lady who used to work in HR even told me that she was 6 months pregnant when she was sitting her job interview and like most people in her position, did not think that she'd get hired because she would have been giving birth in three month's time anyway. Thus, she (and I'm sure a lot of other people) was shocked when they DID give her the job despite knowing that she was pregnant. While I think it's nice that places such as my work are pretty generous when it comes to maternity leave provisions, they also do not pay us as much as organisations in the same industry so I guess they look at other ways to make it for it. That said, it'll still be a long time before many other organisations catch up.PS: I love your blog name!

  2. tseen 14/06/2010 / 6:41 am

    >Wow, Libby, those conditions (and attitudes) are pretty good. What field of work are you in? The university I'm at has 12 months paid, too (14 weeks at 100%, the rest at 60%), with up to another year unpaid. One of the things I like best about my work is the flexibility. I can choose when to do my work and, as long as it gets done, no-one can complain. Such autonomy in the workplace is rare, and I love it.

  3. e 15/06/2010 / 8:40 am

    >I was reading Angela McRobbie's book on chick lit/feminism, and somewhere in there, there's a line about how the ideal woman is now the one who is organized and can have it all.So that they have the career and the children – and this requires super organization, perfection really. So women have less time to eff up really. I kind of became more focused after I had L, paradoxically, I had less time to do something with this new found motivation because I became a mother and didn't want to leave him in F/T care with others. Am currently accepting the fact that I'll just have to live longer – time..it's all about time isn't it. I don't think anyone takes me seriously as more than a casual/part time worker because i'm at that age where I'm expected to have another child. And yeah, from an employers perspective I can see why giving the job to the childless woman or man is a more reliable bet. So I suppose the trick is to become really highly skilled before you breed, so you are irreplaceable.

  4. tseen 16/06/2010 / 1:26 am

    >That's the key, I think, to keeping a good hand in with one's career – reaching a level where your skills are recognised and network known. If you're in an industry that requries constant training to stay on top of the job, though, I think you're really behind the 8-ball. Thankfully, in academia, falling off the radar = a much longer timeframe. For example, I could be not around for 2 years, and my publications/work would still be circulating in that sluggish way that humanities research does…! Quite a few people said to me that taking time out or not working 110% when you have littlies is only sensible because they're small for such a short time, relatively. I don't think I was dismissive of that opinion, but I sure didn't really know what they meant by juggling home/work! Now, I wish I'd listened to them more, rather than the ones who told me that I'd need to ensure I had publications coming out and continue researching even though I was on leave cos I don't want to be left behind, do I, DO I??!

  5. e 16/06/2010 / 4:56 am

    >i'm surprised to hear that academia is child friendly. at the first conference i went to, i ended up in a group with some young supposedly hot shot academic who was mouthing off about how she doesn't understand why women have children, let alone child. it was pretty offensive. i think that the concept of time is def. different for women who decide to have children and take part in the child rearing. The WSJ has a blog called the "juggle" about all of this. Read an entry a few days ago about "war on mothers", but missing from this was the role of fathers. I guess if you are left behind, you can always go back 2 your genre novel. I mean 10 years back I think harlequin were paying $10K per romance manuscript which was the size of a novella, and had prescribed plot. This I think will be my back up plan if I end up no where really with the things I'm trying to pursue..;0

  6. tseen 17/06/2010 / 2:40 am

    >Most universities have very family-friendly POLICIES. Whether this awareness/sensitivity filters down is a total hit/miss. The dept where I did my postgrad years had very few women who had had children. I can only think of 2, and one of them had a career in something non-academic beforehand (which was when she actually had her kids). Some women can be incredibly offensive about kids/parenting/etc. Go the sisterhood…

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