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Maternity leave affects promotions in Australia

world Updated: Aug 19, 2008 12:23 IST

Women who take maternity leave are less likely to be promoted in Australia's public service than those without children, according to government research that feminists said Tuesday was further evidence that motherhood harms careers. The Australian Public Service Commission, a government agency that monitors the workings of the nation's bureaucracy, revealed the research in a submission to an inquiry into paid maternity leave in Australia.

The commission found that 65 percent of women who returned to the public service after taking maternity leave in 2001 had not been promoted by last year.

Of women who had not had children in that period, only 42 percent had been overlooked for promotion.

"It is apparent that there is an effect on their career progression," the commission said of female bureaucrats who have children.

The government in February commissioned a 12-month inquiry into whether the economy can afford expanding the availability of paid maternity leave, which is relatively rare in Australia. The public service is regarded as one of Australia's most family-friendly employers, offering new mothers 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, 12 months unpaid leave and flexible working hours.

The commission said it had not investigated the reasons behind the disparities between careers of mothers and childless women. But factors could include a lack of part-time positions in more senior roles and mothers with young families choosing not to pursue the added responsibilities of promotion.

Gwen Gray, an Australian National University political scientist and expert on women's issues, said management clearly preferred to promote women who did not have family responsibilities. "I would certainly expect women without children to be promoted more quickly than women with children because they have less responsibility and can concentrate on their work more," Gray told The Associated Press.

"I think that's the way of the world. I don't think the world was ever set up as a reasonable place," the mother of three added. Marie Coleman, a former senior public servant who is now a spokeswoman for the feminist advocacy group National Foundation for Australian Women, said mothers' careers suffered in Australia because most chose to return to work part time.

"Unless workplaces are in some way reengineered, there will always be problems for people who come back to work predominantly on a part-time basis," Coleman said.

"Most senior management positions aren't tailored in such a way that people can work on a part-time basis and this is where the dilemma lies," she added.