Gender diversity in the workplace could be harmed if the government decides to reverse planned changes to maternity rights and flexible working, it has been claimed.

Reports have suggested that the government is considering abandoning plans to give new parents greater freedom over how they divide maternity and paternity leave between them.

It is understood that a report by venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft commissioned by the government will recommend the action as one of the ways in which it could reduce the bureaucratic burden on businesses.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Observer, Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone hit out at Steve Hilton, one of David Cameron’s closest aides, for his calls to scrap maternity pay all together as part of a business-friendly agenda.

Other senior cabinet members, including George Osborne and Eric Pickles, are also thought to be in favour of a u-turn on maternity leave policy.

Speaking to Personnel Today, Mandy Garner, editor of, warned that scaling back employment rights such as maternity leave and flexible working would damage employment diversity.

“Rolling back hard-won employment rights – and it must be borne in mind that the right to request flexible working can be turned down on several grounds – will deter women from staying in the workforce and will see companies losing considerable experience and resources,” she said.

“If you look at the most progressive and successful companies, and that includes small firms, they are doing all they can to recruit and retain women precisely because it makes business sense.”

However, Ms Featherstone said her party is committed to ensuring the policies are not derailed.

“Whatever is in this Beecroft report, I think, will be swiftly swept away,” she said.

“These are hideous suggestions … it would be absolutely extraordinary if we were to abandon our commitment to those flagship policies. It is absolutely vital that we deliver on our rhetoric around family-friendly issues.”