Coverage of the announcement that Marks and Spencer’s most senior female employee, Head of Multi-channel, Laura Wade-Gery, is taking maternity leave has shone a light on how rights which are taken for granted by most women cannot be assumed to be so by senior managers. The story merited sufficient significance to feature on the front page of the 19 August edition of the Daily Telegraph
The retailer was required to make a stock exchange announcement about the maternity leave under rules requiring disclosure of absence longer than a typical holiday. The announcement included notification that Ms Wade-Gery will be returning to work in early January after four months’ leave, much earlier than would be typical for maternity leave. Marks and Spencer is known for its enlightened approach to employee rights and was one of the early adopters of offering employees career breaks in addition to statutory leave entitlements.
However the lack of women in very senior appointments generally means that their rights, when balanced against their obligations to their employers and their employers’ shareholders, are less well defined. During her absence cover will be provided by a director of retail and a director of M&S.com, reporting directly to chief executive Marc Bolland.
The Telegraph article highlights that Belinda Earl, M&S style director was the first ever chief executive of a leading public company to go on maternity leave, taking six weeks when she was head of Debenhams in 2001.
The comments below the online version of the article demonstrate that there is still, to put it mildly, a lack of awareness and tolerance of womens’ employment rights.