Broken Career Ladder: Parents Regret Taking Leave for Kids

A mother and child play in Berlin. Family Minister Kristina Schröder says women, especially, pay the price for taking parental leave. Zoom
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A mother and child play in Berlin. Family Minister Kristina Schröder says women, especially, pay the price for taking parental leave.

To what extent do careers suffer when parents take leave to stay home with their children? According to a new survey by the German Family Ministry, nearly 40 percent of women and 30 percent of men regret going on parental leave because of the professional consequences.

While it may allow valuable family time in the early years of a child's life, going on parental leave can potentially stunt career growth in Germany, a new survey finds.

Nearly four in 10 mothers and three in 10 fathers in Germany say that for "career reasons," they actually regretted taking the state-funded time off to be with their children, the poll conducted by the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs has found.

In particular, working mothers "often have it held against them for years after the parental leave that they took a certain time off," Family Minister Kristina Schröder told the daily Welt am Sonntag, which cited figures from the as yet unpublished results on Sunday.

Of the some 4,000 mothers and fathers questioned in the first two months of 2013, some 39 percent of mothers and 28 percent of fathers said they'd had second thoughts about the professional consequences of parental leave.

Schröder said that taking time off for children also contributes to the salary discrepencies between men and women. "Too often women who are returning to work sell themselves short because they are grateful to be given the option of working one day from home and don't dare to demand a proper salary," Schröder told the paper. But in doing this they fail to recognize the "psychology of their mainly male bosses," she added. Namely that, "Those who cost less are also worth less -- a tragic assumption that puts many women at a disadvantage."

Working part-time seems to be problematic for career development too, according to the study. Though most respondents said they felt supported by their employers when they choose to work part-time, four out of 10 parents working less are particularly unhappy with the results career-wise.

More Employer Flexibility Needed

Still, the majority of the parents surveyed seemed satisfied with the possibilities they have to balance work and family, the paper reported. Four out of five said that their choice to take parental leave was not viewed unfavourably by their employers, and some 80 percent said they were able to arrange flexible working hours to accommodate family life.

While Schröder, 35, stressed that the options provided to families by both lawmakers and employers are significantly better than they were some 15 years ago, the family minister warned that there are still plenty of improvements to be made. "I worry, for example, that far too many parents end up on the losing end of career development just because they take advantage of offers such as working part-time or from home," she told the paper.

Schröder, who is a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet with the conservative Christian Democratic Union party, has been pushing for better benefits to encourage parents to take more leave to be with their young children. Currently, parents in Germany can take up to three years off and still have their jobs guaranteed. When they no longer receive paid time off from their employer, they receive money from the government for up to 14 months between both parents, with the amount based on their previous salaries.

On Sunday, Schröder encouraged more flexibility from employers to help keep young parents' careers going. Instead of offering just two rigid options of either 20 or 40 hours per week, companies should also offer a 30-hour schedule, something that 75 percent of parents said they would like, Schröder said.

"That would mean more time for family without automatically sidelining the career," she said.

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