The UK has one of the most generous maternity packages across the world: new mothers are allowed up to 52 weeks off work, 39 of which are paid. But these family-friendly laws are damaging women’s career prospects, according to IoD chairwoman Lady Barbara Judge.
‘I know it’s counter-cultural but I think long maternity breaks are bad for women,’ she says. ‘A friend of mine worked at Reckitt Benckiser and wanted to take a year off to look after her adopted baby. I told her: "You’re mad. You have a great job and, trust me, you’ll lose it if you take a year off." She took 12 month's maternity leave, she returned to work – and then three months later the financial crisis hit. The first job they cut was hers. Why? Because her boss had been doing her job for a year. They realised they didn’t need her.’
Judge, who grew up in Saddle Rock, New York, believes the US has a better system. America is one of just a handful of countries across the world that doesn't guarantee paid maternity leave, although companies with more than 50 employees have to provide 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave following the birth of a child. ‘It gets you back into work; you don’t come off the tracks,’ she says. ‘I took just 12 days off when my son was born.