Irish women fear for careers if they take maternity leave
IRISH women are afraid to take maternity leave - or career breaks - because they fear it will hit their career prospects.
This creates high levels of anxiety, and has resulted in increased mental health problems, according to Orla O'Connor, director of The National Women's Council.
"With the austerity in recent years women aren't being replaced when they go on maternity leave. As a result, they are being 'encouraged' by their employers to come back early," she said.
"It's sad and not right, but taking leave absolutely impacts on career prospects. Taking a few years off to mind young children can also have a devastating impact on careers."
She said a seismic "cultural shift" was required so that men shared equally in child-minding responsibilities.
She insisted state-subsidised childcare was "more critical than ever" if more women were to be actively encouraged to climb the corporate ladder.
A "Scandinavian-style" publicly subsidised model would end the "nightmare" of high nursery bills, added Ms O'Connor.
"The cost is so prohibitive at present - you're talking about the equivalent of taking out a second mortgage," she told the Irish Independent.
"Bringing the Scandinavian model of child-minding to Ireland would be affordable, holistic and comprehensive.
"The Government reduced the top rate of tax in the Budget, but they could have invested in childcare instead. There are choices being made as we come out of austerity, and we would say they're the wrong choices."
She said more husbands needed to "lean out" and, if necessary, leave their own jobs, to give their partners a chance to "move up the ladder".
Josephine Feehily, outgoing chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, accepted the issue of childcare was a "big problem", and believes government "incentives" are urgently required to help struggling families.
She would not be drawn on whether she was in favour of direct government subsidy or tax concessions - but she described the Scandinavian model as "very attractive".
"It does seem to work," she added.
Both women attended a global conference in Dublin Castle yesterday, aimed at examining some of the challenges facing women in the workforce.