At the beginning of 2019, When Angela* found out she was expecting her first child, she and her husband were thrilled. She was excited to start a family, and the timing seemed right: Her career as a project coordinator at an engineering firm in Toronto had been on an upward trajectory, and she felt confident, especially since she had recently taken finance courses to expand her role to include budget and accounting.
“My boss has four children of his own, so I thought, ‘Well, your wife has taken four maternity leave; I’m sure mine won’t be a problem,’” Angela recalls. “But the first thing she said was, ‘I don’t know what happens next, because I’ve never had to deal with this kind of thing.'” Almost immediately, she felt as if she had been demoted. Before her mat leave, her boss reduced her workload, put her goals on hold, and reduced her duties. “I had just announced my pregnancy, I was 14 weeks, and I was already cutting back on all the work he had done for the last three and a half years.”
Angela left for her maternity leave at the end of 2019. She knew that her position would be covered by a temporary hire during her absence, but she hoped that when she returned, she would resume her position with the same level of seniority. But after her 12-month leave of absence, Angela found out that the person who had been hired to cover her job had been hired as a permanent full-time employee. In turn, Ella Angela was demoted to a more junior position: where she had previously been doing everything from executive support to budgeting, she was found to be tasked with basic administration and paperwork. When she Angela advocated getting her previous responsibilities back, she was told that her replacement had it under control and that the new employee had older children, making her “less risky” and more trustworthy as a senior employee. “It was really demoralizing to be demoted for essentially starting a family,” she says Angela. “I was wondering if I hadn’t had a child, if I hadn’t taken a leave of absence, what would my career path look like now?” She ended up leaving the company after just two months ago.
Angela’s experience is not uncommon. According to Statistics Canada, while women are more likely to take leave (between 2012 and 2017, 88% of new mothers took paternity leave, compared to 46% of fathers), they are less likely to have successful return to the workplace. The Parent Potential, a recent report by Women in Capital Markets, or WCM, which analyzed the experiences of 183 professionals working in Canada’s financial industry, found that women are six times more likely to consider leaving their jobs when they return from school. parental leave than men. counterparties, and four times more likely to quit.
Lara Zink, president and CEO of WCM and one of the report’s authors, says one cause of this disparity is the large gap between caregiving responsibilities at home: Women spend an average of four hours and 22 minutes per day to unpaid work. domestic work, compared to two hours and 15 minutes for men. This unequal burden results in greater difficulty for women returning to the workplace and then being pressured to meet both professional and domestic requirements.
“It was really demoralizing to be demoted for essentially raising a family”
“Covid has exacerbated that trend,” Zink says. “I think it’s fair to say that when women consider coming back from parental leave, it’s very difficult for them to think about balancing, say, unpredictable client-driven schedules in addition to the unpaid work responsibilities they have at home. And that’s not just unpaid work when it comes to childcare,” she continues, noting that domestic responsibilities can also include housework, elder care, and other duties.
Also significant, he says, is the fact that it is simply more feasible for women to take parental leave than it is for men. The WCM report found that most participating companies offered much shorter leave for fathers who were not giving birth, leaving mothers responsible for taking more time off work. Here, Zink points out, the script is reversed a bit: To create a more level playing field, men must have access to an opportunity that has traditionally only been granted to women. When men have more opportunities to stay home, women in turn have more opportunities to return to work sooner.
More men taking part in parental leave can also help remove the stigma of having a résumé gap. “Women believe that paternity leave will hurt their career advancement, and a much smaller percentage of men believe it will,” says Zink. “A higher participation rate of women and men in parental leave ultimately reduces stigma for women.”
And, with a record number of women leaving the workplace during the pandemic due to a surge in domestic demands, increasing equal access to parental leave could help guard against the loss of diversity in the workplace that, ultimately hurts businesses. As Zink points out, a diverse work environment is more profitable. “It’s also more innovative, because it gets better results with more diverse voices around the table,” she says. To wit, Zink cites a May 2020 McKinsey & Company report indicating that companies with executive teams made up of more than a third of women significantly outperform companies with fewer women in leadership roles and seniority.
“Women believe that paternity leave is going to hurt their career advancement, and a much smaller percentage of men think so”
Getting more men to take parental leave could be as simple as implementing policies that give non-biological fathers the same amount of leave time as biological fathers. Zink suggests that Canadian companies could go after countries like Finland and Norway, where both parents have a legal obligation to take time off work after the birth of a child. (Research shows that when men take paternity leave, it can have a positive impact on their family relationships, as well as their career development.)
Having more mothers in leadership positions, and implementing policies such as flexible work hours to keep them, can also have a strong trickle-down effect in terms of destigmatizing parental leave. Shortly after leaving her job, Angela was hired as a project manager at a Toronto-based architecture firm. And she’s pregnant again, for May. The experience of navigating her next license, she says, has been night and day, a fact she attributes in large part to the fact that her new manager is a woman and she herself has children. “She understood the fact that she was joining the company with a small child at home, and when I told her I was pregnant, she said she knew it wouldn’t affect my job performance,” says Angela. “She is giving me opportunities to explore senior development and she is making plans for when I return from my next furlough. She has been very supportive and, I think, it’s because she’s been through it too.”
*Angela is a pseudonym