On maternity leave, maternity cover and the generation of short-term posts in academia...
The gender gap, discrimination against women, the motherhood tax and biases against women in the workplace academia are well known e.g. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/465930/BIS-15-447-pregnancy-and-maternity-related-discrimination-and-disadvantage.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwiUrN3WoJnrAhUiUBUIHewtDQQ4ChAWMAN6BAgGEAI&usg=AOvVaw0ov7GOxJVrALDUJEK0Lv5E

Tl;dr workplaces don't like hiring/promoting/fair paying women who do/might have children.
In academia, the challenges women face when choosing to have a family, or not, are plenty. Publication records, grants, promotion potential, pay, prestige and recognition can all suffer with maternity leaves.
This might suprise those of you who have never taken maternity leave before. Why would a university hiring maternity cover help the woman taking the leave?

Well, let me count the ways...
1. Relieves guilt

The guilt at the prospect of burdoning your colleagues with a years worth of your workload while you take a year's leave is real. That guilt is stressful and takes a mental toll
2. Reduces workload

If your role is not covered, then there is significant pressure (internal or external) to ensure projects are finished and teaching materials created before you leave. Workload increases at a time in pregnancy when you are exhausted and in need of rest.
3. Reduces pressure to work while on leave

Academia is a hard job to put down at the best of times. If your role isn't covered, there can be pressure (internal or external) to 'help out'/continue working while on leave instead of recovering from childbirth and caring for baby
4. Reduces workload

If those projects don't get finished while you're on leave then they get pushed to when you return. Or you may take on colleagues work to compensate for them taking yours while on leave. Leading to terrible work/life balance or research/teaching balance.
5. Recognises that our role/job is valued

Not providing cover sends the message that an institution does not value that person's role or job. This can cause genuine anxiety for the person on leave. But also, can lead directly to the job losses, role removal and redundancies
6. Reduces hostile working environments

Related to #1. Expecting colleagues to pick up the workload of women in maternity leave can cause resentment and hostile workplaces for that woman. Everyone working harder while they take a percieved "break" in problematic in many ways
7. Reduces discrimination against hiring women

If proper cover is in place, departments are not penalised by having a member of staff go on leave. So they will be less wary of hiring/promoting women who they think might need maternity leave.
So, maternity cover is an equality and inclusivity issue.

The take that a woman's job can just be absorbed (so worthless!) rather than a fixed-term maternity cover post be created can get in the bin.
P.S. This extends to all parental leave, including adoption leave. But the penalties associated with this kind of leave disproportionately affects women on maternity leave hence the focus.
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