The radical extension of maternity leave is in danger of sabotaging women's careers, the head of the new equality watchdog warned today.
With women now entitled to a year off for each child, Nicola Brewer, the chief executive of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, said employers were thinking twice about offering them jobs or promotion.
In an interview with The Times, she said that her concerns were underlined when the entrepreneur Sir Alan Sugar said that many employers simply binned CVs of women of child-bearing age.
She now feared that plans to extend the right of parents to request flexible working hours until their oldest child was 16 would only exacerbate the problem.
"There has been a sea change on maternity leave and flexible work and we welcome that. But the effect has been to reinforce some traditional patterns," she said.
"The Work and Families Act has not freed parents and given them real choice. It is based on assumptions, and some of the terms reinforce the traditional pattern of women as the carers of children.
"We have come a long way but after winning all these gains it is worth asking: are we still on the right track? The thing I worry about is that the current legislation and regulations have had the unintended consequence of making women a less attractive prospect to employers."