17 March 2005 | Cara Whitehouse
Government proposals to extend paid maternity leave to nine months could lead to fewer women working in purchasing.
The Department of Trade and Industry last month revealed plans to give new mothers nine months' paid leave from April 2007.
But Mark Williams, operations director at recruitment consultancy Supply Chain Personnel, warned that the proposal threatens an upward trend for hiring female purchasers.
He said the percentage of female junior managers in the profession has risen to 31 per cent, from 20 per cent five years ago.
"Purchasing is still a male-dominated environment," he said.
"The situation is improving, but this new maternity legislation is unlikely to help."
Of the 27,783 purchasing candidates the company has seen since 1997 he said, 77 per cent were male.
He added small businesses in particular are concerned about losing a woman to maternity leave in the middle of a procurement project and so could favour men when hiring.
But Shirley Lewington, purchasing and training consultant at VFM Services UK, said employers would fear losing women to maternity leave no more than a male or female employee to a rival. Managers want committed purchasing staff who will see projects through.
She added: "Women will repay an employer that treats them well during maternity leave afterwards by working hard and not looking for a job elsewhere."