A study has found that female nurses who take maternity leave had less active career progression for years after returning to work, compared to childless male colleagues.
The analysis conducted by the Institute of Fiscal studies compared the length of parental leave and rates of progression after having children for different clinical professions, finding that female staff who took maternity leave progressed more slowly in their careers after returning.
The report’s authors found that even in the fifth year after maternity leave, less than 30% of band 5 nurses progressed to band 6.
Rates of career progression were also significantly lower for mothers returning from paternity leave than for childless men at the same points in their career.
The analysis found a band 5 nurse in the second year after returning from maternity leave was over 30% less likely to progress in to band 5 than a childless male colleague. By the fourth year, mothers are ‘36% less likely to progress than childless men at a similar point in their career, and 16% less likely after adjusting for absences and past and current part-time work’.
The reports’ authors said: ‘Where there are cultural or structural barriers for certain groups, such as women in general or mothers in particular, this not only raises equity concerns for those affected but could suggest that the NHS is not making the best use of the talent it has (or could have).
‘More broadly, the NHS is a very large employer and its success on equality has an important benchmarking role and can potentially influence conditions in the rest of the labour market.’
The report also found that there were significant differences in the length of maternity leave taken by female nurses across different sectors.
Female nurses and midwives in branches of nursing with a higher proportion of men, such as psychiatry, generally took less time on maternity leave than nurses in the most female dominated branches, such as children’s nursing and midwifery, researchers found.
In primary care the shortest lengths of time taken for maternity leave was 240 days, whereas in gynaecology nurses generally did not take maternity leave for less than 270 days.
The average maternity leave is 41 weeks in psychiatric and mental health nursing, compared with 48 weeks in obstetrics and gynaecology, data showed.
The report also found regional variation in average length of maternity leave, with the South East of England having the shortest average period of maternity leave for nurses.
A spokesperson for the Royal College of Nurses said: ‘Many RCN members will recognise their workplace in these findings which highlight the challenges female workers still face in the health sector today. It is unacceptable that career progression is worse after taking time off for maternity leave.
‘This report makes clear that there is still a great deal of work to be done and we believe that stronger unions are the best remedy to workplace inequality. ‘