Maternity leave it out?
Should you go straight into a job and demand maternity leave? No, argues Helena Frith Powell
If Labour wins the election the shadow works and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves says she would like to join the new cabinet before she goes on maternity leave for three months. Good for her, I hear you say. But is it really fair of her to expect to be promoted just before she gives birth? To me it smacks slightly of ‘I want the job, but I won’t be able to do it’. I know this is the age of multi-tasking and having it all, but surely even women can’t be expected to take on a job we won’t be around to do?
Who does it really help if Ms Reeves joins the cabinet only to leave minutes later? Certainly not the new government. Extrapolate the example to the private sector and the ramifications are just as serious. I know one CEO who was looking for a new finance director. After weeks of interviews, it came down to two finalists; a man and a woman. He gave the job to the woman. Three months later she announced she was six months pregnant and would soon be going on maternity leave. It was a disaster, as the company was about to launch an IPO. They had to delay it until she was back. Needless to say, the CEO bitterly regretted his decision and says it has put him off hiring women. Another (female) employer friend of a friend tells the story of her second in command whom she promoted above another female colleague. Almost immediately after the promotion she told her boss that she was pregnant, but hadn’t mentioned it because she didn’t want to ruin her chances of being promoted to the bigger job. You can see where she’s coming from, but as the employer says, she would have had much more respect for her if she’d told her the truth and probably promoted her on the strength of her honesty alone. Even though she is now back from maternity leave and doing a great job, she finds it hard to trust her.
Women who go for promotions or new jobs when they’re pregnant without being honest are ruining things for the rest of us, as are women who think they are entitled to a job they are not going to be around to do. If you’re good enough to be promoted, then go for it when you (and your newborn baby) are ready for the challenge, and don’t just grab it because you’re worried you’ll lose out if you don’t. Apart from anything else, experience in parenting is perfect preparation for senior roles. Once you’ve brought up an offspring or two, managing a team of adults seems like child’s play.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019