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Maternity provision, contract status, and likelihood of returning to work: Evidence from research intensive universities in the UK

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1495-1510
Number of pages16
JournalGender, Work and Organization
Issue number5
Accepted/In press2022
PublishedSep 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: Joanna M. Davies is supported by a Research Training Fellowship from The Dunhill Medical Trust (RTF74/0116). Lisa Jane Brighton is supported through a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Career Development Fellowship (CDF-2017-10-009). The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, NIHR, or the Department of Health and Social Care. We would like to thank the Cicely Saunders Institute Diversity and Inclusion executive group and the Human Resources department of King's College, London, for their help and feedback in developing the FOI request. The authors received no specific funding for this work. Funding Information: Timing of pregnancy in relation to the length of contract is therefore critical to the level of financial support received regardless of length of service. Staff who meet the continuous service requirement may still have their enhanced pay restricted if the length of their contract does not adequately cover the return to work period. In practice this means that despite meeting continuous service requirements, fixed‐term workers may be offered limited financial support during their maternity leave while simultaneously facing the uncertainty of seeking contract extensions or redeployment. Publisher Copyright: © 2022 The Authors. Gender, Work & Organization published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

King's Authors


Reliance on fixed-term contracts and a lack of adequate maternity provision for fixed-term workers could be contributing to the loss of women from academia―the so called “leaky pipeline”―but evidence on this is lacking. This paper describes variation, between research intensive universities in the UK, in the maternity provision they offer to fixed-term workers and presents preliminary staff data on the likelihood of returning to work following a period of maternity leave for academic and non-academic staff on fixed-term versus open-ended contracts. A gendered lens is applied, investigating how the intersection between contractual status and maternity provision contributes to gender inequality in academia within the context of hierarchical neoliberal academic organizing and the masculinized “ideal” academic. Staff data was obtained using a Freedom of Information request made to the 24 Russell Group universities in the United Kingdom. The odds of returning to work after maternity leave were 59% lower for staff on fixed-term compared to open-ended contracts (pooled odds ratio: 0.41, 95% confidence interval: 0.26–0.64). Maternity provision for fixed-term workers varied between institutions, with most operating policies that limit access to enhanced maternity pay for staff on fixed-term contracts. Wider adoption of maternity policies that are more compatible with employment on fixed-term contracts, including: no continuous service or return to work requirement, full financial support for staff facing redundancy during maternity leave, and appropriate signposting of redeployment obligations, could help to support more women to stay in academia.

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