Bumped up

<p>It doesn't seem so long ago, but my generation of women in publishing was the first to have children and return to work. Women who managed to combine the early stages of their career with motherhood around the same time that I had my family include Gail Rebuck, Helen Fraser and Sue Fletcher&mdash;and nobody would argue the fact that their skills and talent have been enormously beneficial to publishing. If proof were needed that generous maternity arrangements are more than repaid by enabling smart women to thrive in our industry, then their ongoing careers are that proof.</p>
<p>But there is another side to the story. For businesses such as smaller independent publishers, independent booksellers or agencies like ours, coping with staff absences for maternity leave can be a real struggle. In the case of Aitken Alexander Associates, out of a total workforce of 17&mdash;made up of 13 permanent staff plus four part-timers&mdash;four women are due to have babies during the course of this year. They will each be out of the office on paid leave for six months. (In fact one of the men's partners is also expecting twins, which increases the number of babies to an astonishing six. But a short spell of paternity leave does not raise quite the same management problems.) The money is not really the issue&mdash;much of it is repaid by the government&mdash;but it isn't easy to hire maternity cover in our business because an agent's skills are not easily transferable, and personal contacts are at least as important as the work itself. So we will be struggling through 2008 with absences of almost a quarter of our staff.</p>
<p>I know it's not politically correct to say so, but it is a serious problem, and I am really grateful that Andrew Kidd will be joining us as a new agent before the maternal exodus begins. Without this extra help, I don't know how we would have coped.</p>
<p>But the problem is a short-term one. This is an industry which is attractive to young, creative women and that may partly be because it is possible for work with books and authors to remain flexible enough that it can be combined with raising a family. As the beneficiary of the energy and creativity of so many young women, it wouldn't be fair as an industry to complain that there are also disadvantages.</p>
<p>But I'd be lying if I said it was easy.</p>