“Whilst laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the needs of mothers and newborn babies do not,” says Joanna Shields, prime minister David Cameron’s right-hand woman for all things digital.
Shields, who serves as a non-executive director of the London Stock Exchange Group and as chair of Tech City UK - an organisation that hopes to bolster London’s own ‘silicon roundabout’ in the east end, is referring to Vodafone’s ‘pioneering’ new maternity policy.
The telecommunications provider will have one of the world’s first geographically agnostic maternity policies. This means women working in countries where there is little or no statutory maternity leave (like the US, China, Papua New Guinea and some African countries) will get the same benefits as their European or UK peers.
The move promoted equality for mothers worldwide and sent a clear message to other firms that providing quality support networks for pregnant women and new mothers can save costs and retain valuable talent.
As it stands, the UK’s statutory minimum is 90 percent pay for the first six weeks and £138.18 (before tax) for the next 33 weeks. Women can take up to 12 months’ maternity leave, but the last three months will be unpaid unless companies offer over and above the statutory requirement.
In comparison, Vodafone is offering at least 16 weeks of full paid maternity leave, as well as full pay for a 30-hour week for the first six months after their return to work.
Competitive maternity benefits
Other notable tech firms in the UK offer competitive policies. BT, for example, offers 18 weeks at full pay, followed by eight weeks at half pay, with the remaining 26 weeks paid at the statutory rate. But internationally, it said: “We are at least compliant with local regulations in all geographies but as a leading employer we also exceed statutory practices in some areas.”
This has contributed to an almost 90 percent retention of employees for at least a year following the birth of their child at BT, above the 77 percent average calculated by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Leading British chip-maker ARM says it offers shared parental leave internationally, and in the UK it offers 90 percent of normal weekly earnings or full basic salary for six weeks, which is halved for the next 20 weeks. The final 13 weeks are paid at the relevant SMP (statutory maternity pay) rate.
‘My employer would not consider reduced hours of flexible working, so I had to leave’
Leicestershire-based Fiona Bradley-Barlow (pictured), director of AQ4B, an accreditation firm for Sage software accountants, hopes Vodafone’s announcement “is the start of a trend towards more flexible arrangements for employees in agreement with their employers”.
Barlow, a finalist in the entrepreneur of the year category in the everywoman in technology awards, has seen the dark side of maternity policies in the workplace. Following a promotion, she found out she was pregnant with her first daughter.
She says: “I loved my job and desperately wanted to return to work; but I immediately fell in love with my baby as soon as she arrived and could not bear to leave her full-time. My employer would not consider reduced hours of flexible working, so I had to leave.
“It was a black and white decision taken on my ability to be on the premises from 8.30am to 5.30pm, five days a week. However good or committed I was to my job and whatever value I added to the organisation was not a consideration at the time.”
After finding a new job in a smaller business, Barlow’s second pregnancy was an entirely different experience.
“I went into labour and even prepared all the weekly wages from home immediately before going to hospital. I sat an exam from my hospital bed the day after she was born and returned to my role pretty much immediately, due to the flexibility with working hours.”
However, maternity leave is just the first hurdle to overcome, adds Justine Perry, who is managing director of Cariad Marketing, a UK-based web design and internet marketing firm.
She says: “I think women face far more discrimination when they have young children and childcare becomes an issue. I don’t necessarily agree that employers have a problem with maternity leave, I think what follows is the contentious area.
“As an employer myself, I want to nurture and encourage the next generation of women working in technology and I specifically want young, aspirational, talented employees. If you offer a flexible, family-friendly environment, staff will be more inclined to say and repay you with their loyalty.
“I have children and a great career; if managed properly by employers I don’t think these two things need to be mutually exclusive.”
Firms could save £13 million a year by better supporting their pregnant employees
Global businesses could save up to $19 million (£13 million) a year by moving to the 16-week maternity leave model championed by Vodafone, KPMG says.
The firm estimated that the cost of recruiting and training new employees to replace women who do not stay in the workforce after having a baby costs global businesses $47 billion (£31 billion) every year.
Additionally, the research showed that offering mothers a global return-to-work policy equivalent to a four-day week at full pay for their first six months back to work after maternity leave would save working mothers a cumulative $14 billion (£9 billion) in childcare for their children.
Tech firm maternity policies in the UK
Accenture’s current maternity leave entitlement for the UK is 39 weeks pay for full-time and part-time employees. An additional 3 months of unpaid maternity leave is also available, taking the full entitlement to 1 year.
Yesterday Accenture announced a new policy in the US that expands its paid maternity leave to 16 weeks for full-time and part-time US employees, even though there is no statutory minimum.
However its maternity policy varies by country adapting to local laws.
Microsoft's UK employees are offered full pay for a period of 26 weeks if they have been with the firm forover a year, followed by an additional 12 weeks statutory maternity pay. It also offers support through a dedicated wellbeing centre, bump club and return to work coaching.
ComputerworldUK contacted other UK and Ireland-based tech firms to confirm their maternity policies. Samsung refused to comment and Twitter UK, Facebook, EE and Virgin Media did not respond.