It used to be that mostly women would take maternity leave, and in the field where I work it would be accounted for by a hiring committee. Most likely, someone would say “yeah, there is a dip in X’s scientific production during years XX-XX, but that's around the time she got 2 kids, so it's not worrying”. It might not always be put very delicately (I heard of a committee member once saying “so, let's decide in advance: how many papers is one kid worth?”), but there existed some sort of positive bias.
Nowadays, more and more fathers take parental leave (around me, it seems to be usually 6 to 12 months when the kid is young). Thus, the situation is getting more complex. How do hiring committees in academia handle these cases? Should one consider a parental leave as “lost time”, professionally speaking? Or are recruiters in academia more understanding than that?
Edit: more specifically, I'm talking about the US system. I know that standards of parental leave are more generous in Europe than in a typical “welfare is communism” country :) So, I am worried about how academic employers might react to a woman having a 2 years parental leave in her curriculum, or a father having taken a 6-month leave in the recent past.
Of course, the situation in others countries is also interesting… So please don't hesitate to leave comments!
The US hiring committees I've been on generally don't handle this issue, because it's mostly orthogonal to the hiring decision. We can't legally discriminate on the basis of gender, age, martial status, sexual orientation, parental status, or fertility. We can and do discriminate on the strength of the applicant's cumulative research record (including recent productivity) and their reputation in the research community. Short gaps in an applicant's research record are inconsequential; everybody has off years. Longer gaps, even if they last multiple years, can be ignored if their post-gap work is sufficiently stellar. (And if their work isn't stellar, even without the gaps, why would we want to hire them?)
However, this is an issue that promotions and tenure committees have to address. At my university, parental and other leaves extend the tenure clock, and tenure/promotion decisions are based on the candidate's cumulative record since their last promotion, not their cumulative record in the last n years for any fixed value of n. The committee usually knows that the candidate's clock was extended, because we can figure that out from their CV, but we are usually not told why, because it's none of our business.
There are many reasons why a researcher might take a leave of absence / stop their tenure clock / have a gap in their publication record. I've seen all of the following:
- Parental: having or adopting a new child (either or both parents)
- Medical: serious injury or illness, of either the researcher themselves or a close family member
- Bereavement: death of a researcher's spouse, child, or other close family member
- Entrepreneurial: building a startup company
- Administrative: holding a service position, either at the university or elsewhere (for example, at a funding agency)