Women in tech say Vodafone's maternity policy will help - but more needs to be done

Several tech firms in the UK offer great maternity packages that have equated to better employee retention, ComputerworldUK finds.

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“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.”

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