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Negotiating for entitlement: Accessing parental leave in Hungarian firms

There is a great deal of literature on the patterns and consequences of parental leave policies and on how and why certain countries adopted specific family policy clusters. Much less is known about the employment context that shapes workers' use of these policies. The current study focuses on the negotiation process that workers must undergo with employers regarding the length of leave and workers' ability to return to their jobs following leave. Given workers' increasing vulnerability in a global neoliberal labour market and the lack of efficient state protection, companies are able to reinforce the ideal of the unencumbered worker norm and thus shape workplace gender inequality regimes. Drawing on qualitative data gained from 33 highly skilled professional women in Hungary, we find that parental leave provisions have become conditional on company needs, and as a result have become increasingly informal, individualized and subject to negotiation. Despite broad leave entitlements and job protections in Hungary, many of our respondents were required to scale back on their career aspirations, drop out or change jobs following leave. By exploring the ways in which highly skilled professional mothers negotiate their rights at work, this study identifies employers as critical gatekeepers who translate public entitlements into the lived experience of workplace gender inequality.

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