$75,000 to explore free software during maternity leave?

A number of countries offer women various social benefits during maternity leave. A new scheme in Australia promises to give virtually all women one hundred percent of their salary (capped at a whopping $12,500 per month) and extend maternity leave to 6 months. Some believe it has been funded by abolishing fibre-to-the-home, but that is another topic...

This is a dramatic upgrade - in both cash and time - from the existing scheme where women have 18 weeks leave at the minimum wage. In Australia, the "minimum wage" figure is a fantasy, well below the real cost of living. In practice, the existing scheme and economic pressure force many women back into their job in less than 18 weeks. The new scheme with a one hundred percent salary replacement eliminates much of that pressure.

Many European countries offer women some payment that pays the real cost of living, for example, EUR 2,400 per month in France. That is more than the minimum wage in Australia, enough to cover food, clothing and rent in most French cities. Australia's new system, in comparison, will give women on high salaries enough cash to immediately hire a nanny and other discretionary expenses that will maintain their lifestyle as much as they can within reason while dealing with a new baby. The cap is 300% higher than in France and it is 100% wage replacement, whereas many European schemes only give women a percentage of their salary. For this reason, many people have described it as the "Rolls Royce" of maternity pay.

Just who are the women in these higher salary brackets? It is hardly any surprise that many of them are in IT and engineering professions. The upper salary range of the new maternity leave scheme appears to squarely match with the cashflows of female software developers, web designers, project managers and potentially many other professionals with a background in science or engineering.

Many women worry about being out of the workforce for too long and the potential impact on their skills and professional networks. In computing jobs, technology can change a lot in 6 months.

There are many men and women who enjoy computing in their free time as much as in their job. For female developers with this time out of the office, the world's most comfortable maternity leave scheme could be an opportunity to spend a little time exploring the free software world.

Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that women should be reaching for the laptop when they first go into labor and getting plugged in to the web before the umbilical cord has been severed. Some people find technology to be a rewarding pursuit throughout their whole life, while others simply see it as a job and will be happy to have a break from it.

For those who find technology just as interesting (or more so) out of the office there are many possible outcomes. Some may simply pursue something creative that has no relation to the IT projects in their job while others may bring some new experiences back to their job. Some may even choose to reconsider their career, performing free software development work on a freelance basis rather than going back to an office environment. The "Rolls Royce" maternity pay scheme could provide a comfortable buffer for female IT professionals in all these categories as they evaluate their next steps and make such decisions.