Female Career Progression & Maternity Leave: An Irish Exploration

Collette O’Connor, Angela Wright

Abstract


The persistent existence of the 'gender pay gap' in organisations, and the lack of females at executive level position in Ireland due to motherhood is the context for this paper. In particular, this study seeks to investigate why women's careers are impacted by childbearing. The study investigates if there is a correlation between taking maternity leave, and women's career progression in the work place. The increasing length of maternity leave benefits and flexible work arrangements results in elongated absence of females from the workplace. This leads to stereotypical role emergence by both men and women. Women take on the main responsibilities of home and child rearing, while men maintain and expand their careers. As a result, a marked absence of women exists at senior executives levels in organisations both in Ireland and internationally. Many studies have drawn attention to the challenges faced by women in reaching executive level positions in organisations. There is, however, very limited empirical research conducted with females, their co-workers, and managers, on the behaviour of women returning to the work place post maternity leave. In particular, there is a lack of research on the issues faced by individuals in Irish organisations.

A significant finding of this study is that women's careers are impacted by having children, but, more significantly, by their prevailing roles as primary care givers to their families and home responsibilities. Enhancing the relevance of this study, key trends that emerged suggest that women's motivation concerning their current work remains constant, and they become more productive when they return to the workplace after maternity leave. This research found however, that the majority of women, post maternity leave, consciously decide to reduce their career ambitions and progressions, as family now becomes their highest priority. The primary findings of this study will contribute to the limited research in an Irish context of female career progression, and Irish maternity leave. Significantly, the study will contribute to the body of literature on gender 'pay gap', and gender equality, in the workplace and society. This study will be of particular relevance to managers and HR policy makers.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5296/ber.v3i1.3536

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