The matter with maternity leave

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Statutory maternity leave increased on 1 April. At least one bank isn't happy about it.

Since April 1, women have been entitled to nine months statutory maternity leave, with the option to take 12 months off if they choose.

"It's a nightmare," says the head of HR at one US investment bank. "At the end of the day, we're a client-focused business and if someone's off for a whole year, clients are liable to complain. Plus we'll have to get someone else to cover for them."

While fund management has more than its fair share of mega-mothers (in the form of Katherine Garrett-Cox and Nicola Horlick, with four and five children respectively), large families are less prolific - or less well-publicised - among women in banking.

Will the new legislation make amends? This will depend upon whether women take the government up on the offer.

If they do, banks could find themselves in trouble, says Gareth Brahams, an employment law partner at solicitors Lewis Silkin. "The moment someone's joined they can take maternity leave for a year, and by the time they come back they might be close to taking their next bout of leave," says Brahams. "A woman who has three children in a five-year period could easily find herself having three years off," he adds.

Brahams says long periods of maternal absence are all the more likely in banking, with women delaying having children until they're secure in their career and having them in quick succession.

"It's a bit of a chicken and egg situation," says the head of HR. "In this industry you need to have a nanny to meet client commitments, but with nannies costing anything up to 60k in London, you need to be earning a lot to afford one.

"Some of our senior women have a nanny for each child," he adds.

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