Women in Science
Taking Parental Leave
The University’s maternity scheme makes generous provision for those who want to take time off work following the birth of their child. The scheme entitles all eligible employees (regardless of their grade or the hours worked) to receive 26 weeks on full rate of pay.
Almost all the women we interviewed had been eligible for maternity leave. Some recognised that maternity leave and maternity pay at Oxford is generous and felt fortunate.
Funding Bodies and Paid Maternity Leave
Each funding body has its own policies about whether or not to reimburse the costs of paid maternity leave, which can be confusing. Some charities and other funding bodies don’t reimburse maternity pay, but the Wellcome Trust and the MRC do. However, this does not affect an individual’s entitlement to the University’s contractual maternity pay scheme.
Krina says that the Wellcome Trust is fantastic in the way it supports women who become pregnant during a fellowship. The Trust paid her and the research staff and extended the grant for an extra six months.
Choosing to Keep in Touch
Some women chose to return to work early or are concerned to stay in touch with work during their leave. Those who do wish to remain more engaged with their work are entitled to request up to ten, paid, Keeping in Touch (KIT) days during maternity leave and each partner is allowed up to 20 Shared Parental Leave in Touch (SPLIT) days during shared parental leave.
Julia describes taking her maternity leave 'while still doing the research'. She said she was 'teaching with babies hung round her neck a couple of weeks after having them'. Several women reflected on the dip in their CVs after taking maternity leave.
On the other hand some women want a complete break from work when they are having maternity leave. Lois felt that she benefitted from being able to step away from the ‘coal face’ for a few months during her parental leave. Lucy became pregnant just as she was applying for an MRC Training Fellowship. She didn’t have much time to rest because she was writing her thesis, and she felt under pressure to return to work when her baby was only four months old. Looking back she wishes she had taken more time off. In 2001 Lucy was awarded an MRC Clinical Scientist Fellowship, to continue her research in the field of HIV. She delayed starting work on this project due to another pregnancy. The MRC were very helpful and told her to take as long as she wanted for maternity leave. This time Lucy took five months off work. She wanted a proper break from work and felt annoyed that future collaborators were trying to contact her by email before she had even started her research job.
Catherine chose not to keep in touch with work while she was on maternity leave. Lois pointed out that some types of work are easier to leave for several months than other types of work. She worked in emergency medicine, which she said was not a competitive field, so she didn’t have to worry that someone might take her job.
Marella is from Holland where she has several male friends who worked less than full-time when their children were small so they could be with their children one day a week. This is normal practice in Holland – her male friends were all now group leaders and professors, so there is no suggestion this practice had affected their careers.
Sally stopped work for nine years to look after her children. She wanted to have them before she had her own lab (for more see ‘When is the best time to have children?’). Recently Sally said that she has a male postdoc who is taking three months paternity leave, allowable under current regulations.
Some women used Keeping in Touch Days to maintain support for their doctoral students and postdocs and keep their publications going. Others returned to their department for work or training. Some women found it difficult to stay away from their work for long since they were running projects that needed supervising and felt that it was impossible to ‘stop the clock’ in academic science.
Katja took six or seven months off but after a few weeks at home full-time with a baby decided that it was hard work, her brain felt under used and she missed the social contact with her colleagues, so she went in to work for seminars or meetings, just for an hour or two, to keep in touch with colleagues. She would have liked to share the leave with her partner.
Shared Parental Leave
The Shared Parental Leave and Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) statutory scheme, introduced in April 2015, enables eligible parents, if they so wish, to share a period of leave and pay in the 52 weeks immediately following the birth or adoption of their child and offers the same enhanced pay as the contractual maternity pay scheme. For details see:
A few of the women we talked to had husbands or partners who stopped work to look after their child(ren). Some of their leave was unpaid, (for more see ‘Child care’). This was before Shared Parental Leave had been introduced in 2015. Others, like Angela, had partners who were also academics at the university, which made it easier to organise shared leave.
The University is trying to make it easier for men and women to take parental leave. There is a Returning Carers' Fund, which is a small grants scheme intended to support the return to research of women and men who have taken a break of at least six months for caring responsibilities. The Returning Carers' Fund supports those who have taken a break for caring responsibilities to re-establish their research careers:
Students & Eligibility
There are a few instances where women do not qualify for maternity pay, including PhD students (they are not employees), but some departments make special arrangements.
There are a very few instances when women are not eligible for maternity pay. Persephone was not eligible because she was already three months pregnant when she moved back to the UK from the USA.