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Apprentice Katie claims three weeks maternity is enough

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9th May 2011
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Katie Hopkins, the ex-Apprentice and reality TV contestant, has sparked another row by appearing on The One Show with a report (which you can view here on iPlayer – it starts at 8.58 minutes) suggesting women should take no more than three weeks off after giving birth.

Most people realise being a parent isn’t an easy job, but it’s easy to forget when you’re at work while others are at home, bringing up the next generation. Childless workers may sometimes find it hard to understand when parents need so much flexibility, but initiatives from the government led by Nick Clegg have sought to increase maternity leave to make it  ‘properly flexible’ and encourage both parents to take a more active role supported by legislation and workplaces.

Katie Hopkins, of Apprentice fame, has made another stir with a hardline view. She has three children and took only three weeks off after having each of them before returning to work. She feels this would be a better approach if adopted by the rest of the female workforce.

In the report she claims: “The difference between most mothers and me is that I didn’t sit around drinking coffee at baby group for twelve months after the birth of my baby. No, in three weeks I was back in my suit, back at my desk earning profit for my business - and I don’t see why other women shouldn’t do the same.”

You can see the reaction of The One Show’s presenters, Matt Baker and Alex Jones, below:

Many in our own community know what it’s like to balance these things personally and to support those working and parenting professionally. HR practitioner and blogger Alison Chisnell (the HR Juggler) is an example. She blogged: “When my daughters were born, it transformed my view of working parents into a new-found, complete awe and admiration. How did they manage to turn up at work on time looking presentable and professional, do their roles capably and well, whilst still looking after their little ones outside of work hours?”

Kudos to Katie on having a family and a career, but perhaps not so much on this designed-to-stir comment from her in the report: “To be honest it’s beyond me why any working woman would want to take more than a couple of weeks off. Perish the thought of becoming a bloated, brainless version of your former self whose only topic of conversation is which organic vegetable combo you’ve pureed that week in your sad Tupperware tub.”

She’s not alone in being a working mum – plenty of women go back to work. According to a recent BBC article the number of working mothers is two in three now, with 6% working more than 48 hours and 3% more than 60.

Chris Parke, CEO of Talking Talent, an organisation which supports working parents, says: “Every woman is different in their approach to taking maternity leave, and the choices they take by no means highlight their commitment to work. The vast majority of women take a lot more than three weeks maternity leave, primarily because it takes more than three weeks to recover from having a baby, both physically and mentally.”

Women in the workplace may still be having difficulties, facing lower pay, glass ceilings and discrimination, but business needs talented women as much as men.

Katie Hopkins is rightly concerned about the perception of women in the workplace. She says in the report: “I think that employers, frightened by these huge costs are covertly discriminating against women.” However it seems these fears are somewhat misplaced.

What are the costs to the workplace?

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is funded by the government. There is no automatic obligation to ‘top up’ payments – unless you want to engage and motivate your working mothers to return after they give birth, of course, which many employers choose to do.

Chris Parke explains: “There is no real cost to business as these costs are covered by the government. The only loss is losing the talented individual in the short-term, which is what makes the effective management of the transition so important.”

He continued: “It’s not more expensive for women to take extended maternity leave, the only expense is the loss of talent; businesses don’t have to pay the individual.”

Ian Sharland, the director of Baby Sensory, the place Katie went to meet full-time mums in her report, had this to say about the cost:

“Many companies argue that they have to manage the administrative burden of paying SMP and reclaiming it from the government. The other cost which is more difficult to quantify is the lost productivity associated with a valued member of staff being unavailable for a considerable period of time.  I would argue that there is always time to plan for maternity leave and that the additional cost of cover during this period is compensated for by improved resilience and flexibility for future growth.”

He also added: “Raising children is the most important role in our civilisation. The first 12 months are the most vital time for the development of a baby and parents who chose to take a year out from their career to look after their newborn baby during this time are ensuring their baby gets the best possible start.  Parents who sacrifice career development opportunities to spend time with their babies should be praised and not considered to be lazy.”

When challenged at Baby Sensory, Katie Hopkins defended her position, saying: “Yeah, they miss me, but I’m home at weekends, and when I’m home I’m a happy mum. And I wouldn’t be a happy mum sitting at home picking up spaghetti hoops up off the floor.”

Alison mused in a post on flexible working: “I am very lucky in that I don’t feel guilty about being a working mum. I don’t judge anyone for their working arrangements, as life is more than tough enough already balancing home, work, life and children.“

And that’s exactly what Katie is doing – judging other people for their choices, and playing on a stereotype that maternity leave is expensive and inconvenient.

This is what it is about: there is no ‘right way’. As a society, we judge every parent’s decision, whether it’s to go back to work full time, part time or not at all. As Katie defensively stressed to a parent at Baby Sensory: “I really do know that my children are fine.” Even the most convinced is forced to defend their position when it comes to the most important job you’ll ever have – being a parent.

Chris Parke added: “Businesses recognise that part of making money is attracting and retaining talented people, and keeping them engaged. Parenthood is not a concern for the individual, or even solely for women, it is part of society and so must be part of business. And, the new paternity legislation introduced last month could help to ‘even out’ the discrimination Katie Hopkins refers to.”

Mothers aren’t the only ones who face parenting decisions. A survey by Talking Talent revealed that the majority of men would also prefer to take longer than three weeks leave. Nearly half – 46 percent – would take advantage of the new shared parental leave. However Chris Parke warned that many are too worried about what people will think to take advantage of it.

There are benefits to supporting parents in your organisation
Ian Sharland pointed out that added responsibility encourages parents to be more successful. They also benefit from greater loyalty, and companies often benefit from greater resilience and skill-sharing which helps businesses cope better with sickness, absence and allows new talent to enter the organisation or move within it.

Ian added: “Where anyone is able to have a good work life balance and their employer allows them to support their family without feeling guilt, they are far less likely to suffer from stress. One of the biggest problems with measuring the cost of a socially responsible policy is that it is far easier to count the cost of the policy than it is to measure the benefits of doing the right thing.”

Being a working parent isn’t a women’s issue, it’s not a niche problem and it’s not a disability. The biggest issue parents face is judgement from those who believe they know best for everyone.

Human resources professionals can support their talented employees who they have invested in to come back to work so they don’t lose their experience and expertees – but that won’t be easy if we insist women follow Katie’s hardline example.
 

Many thanks to Alison for allowing us to reproduce her quotes for this article.

Replies (5)

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By Hannah_Roman
10th May 2011 11:46

I think it's all very well being judgemental about mothers taking extended maternity leave when you are a director of your own company and you can make up your own rules about when you work and when you dont work, what time you turn up and what time you finish, but when you are a regular employee, you are not afforded that flexibility. It's all about priorities really, and some people work to live rather than live to work - that doesnt make you a bad person or an unreliable and uncommitted employee. Companies need to remember that employees are human beings and not working machines, some people have a life outside of the office!!

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By JuliaBenbow
10th May 2011 13:47

Breastfeeding.  Unless you do what my mum did in the seventies and take your six week old to work, let them sleep in the car (in a spot visible from your window) drop down for a feed at appropriate times.

It's a naive comment.  Furthering the cause of women at work? Thanks for that.

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By Listonsmith
11th May 2011 08:09

The hidden value in what Katie Hopkins did, is adding another spark to this debate, which we need to keep having (thought granted it would be good not to quite so far back each time). As Ian and Chris both underline, it's not an issue for woman or even solely for parents and keeping it on the agenda to bring out these comments has a value.

-- Jennifer Liston-Smith Head of Coaching, My Family Care

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By Tania Isham
11th May 2011 09:24

Yet again, more comments on the rights/needs for women to return to their career after the birth of a baby (I have 3 children).  I took a very different path when - having decided to take maternity leave - discovered that my children needed me.  Not a nursery or a wonderfully dedicated child-minder.  They needed their Mum, so I became one of the increasingly fewer women to leave work and stay at home to look after my children (believe me - it's not a lazy option - bringing up children to be well rounded, caring individuals is one of the biggest challenges there is). 

Why then do I feel guilty that I didn't take the Katie option and go straight back to work for the employer who had put so much time, effort and money into training me?  

Whilst I applaud a system that allows families to choose the route that's best for them - society needs to support all routes, including those women who decide to stay at home.  

How many women return to work now because they have to?  Either because of financial comittments or because they feel this is the norm now.

-- Tania

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By Jeremy Barker
15th May 2011 18:18

This reminds me of the experience of a friend's wife around 20 years ago. When her first child was born he was whisked off to daycare as soon as absolutely possible and she returned to work. He did fine in this situation. She planned to do the same for child no. 2 but that young one really did not want anyone other than mum to care for him. Result was that she had to give up full-time professional job and become a full-time parent.

More recently my sister in law found that she would only be marginally better off working and paying travel to work and childcare costs than staying at home. She chose to stay at home and later said that she would really have regretted not being able to be with her child for the first few years.

But of course for some it does work and they should not be denied the choice, but they must not seek to force their choice on others for whom it would not work.

 

 

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