The issue of maternity leave for staff employed on research grants has been raised on a number of occasions, with PIs expressing concerns relating to both the financial issues (how to pay for maternity leave) and the disruption to the research programme (no money for maternity cover; extension to the end date of grants). This has obviously been a matter of concern since this may be fuelling conscious or unconscious bias. Following the 2014 Athena SWAN Workshop, Martin Barstow offered to raise this with STFC/RCUK and we produced a briefing document that was forwarded to them. Martin and Paul had a telephone conference to discuss these issues with them and we are delighted to report a very positive outcome.

Key issues raised:

1. Many grants are time limited without an automatic route to shift the end date.
2. No contingency funding is available within the grant to pay for maternity leave or maternity cover, and this leads to a shortening of the grant.
3. University maternity leave is very generous, allowing staff to take up to a year off, and providing pay that is well above the statutory minimum which has to come out of the grant.
4. Failure to deliver outputs on externally funded research impacts upon the PI and their chances of securing future funding which again will tend to encourage PIs to avoid employing women of child bearing age.
5. Many scientific fields are moving very fast and externally funded research is likely to be in “hot” areas so that failure to be able to appoint maternity cover will seriously impact upon competitiveness.

Responses: The issue of getting an extension of the end date appears to be straightforward. All funding councils allow for an extension to take account of staff who have gone on maternity leave and the extension period for maternity leave has recently been increased to 12 months which matches the longest typical maternity leave that is taken. Authorisation for this is “light touch” with a letter requesting it being sufficient.

We raised the issue of funding for maternity leave/maternity cover and pointed out that within the University sector as a whole, pay for maternity leave tends to be quite generous (i.e. above the statutory minimum). They were clear that these costs do not have to come out of the grant and can be claimed back from the funding council at the end of the grant.

These clarifications clearly address the issues raised in points 4 & 5. It is clearly possible to either simply extend the grant while the postdoc is on maternity leave and/or continue the programme by appointing maternity cover (within the original cash limit). STFC/RCUK acknowledged that they perhaps need to make sure that these terms and conditions and financial arrangements are more widely publicised. We have subsequently checked the terms and conditions for EPSRC, BBSRC and The Wellcome Trust and these are all in a line with STFC.

To Note:

  • Maternity leave is funded by the University
  • The funding for this is at college level
  • If you are externally funded, your maternity leave is paid for by the University in the same way as a centrally funded post. Your grant may allow the recovery of maternity pay to the university. Please contact the Research Support Office, who will advise you on this.

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