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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Does maternity leave work?

By Reva Seth

Three things everyone should know about career success and maternity leave:

    1.    Fewer and fewer women have access to the conventional form of maternity leave.  In 2001, when the Canadian government increased parental leave from 10 to 35 weeks it was a significant step toward creating a workplace that was more amenable to families. However, this benefit will be available to fewer families as research suggests that by 2020 over half the workforce will be working in non-institutional careers (without access to benefits).

      2.   Fewer and fewer women can afford a full year long maternity leave.  The number of women who are the sole breadwinners in their family and/or who earn an equal income to that of their partner has been steadily growing.  A full departure from work, then, has a significant impact on finances.

3.  Entrepreneurship is changing the framework of maternity leave.  Small to mid-size businesses have become a key source of job creation in the Canadian economy– and increasingly these are owned and operated by women. For this group, stepping away from their business for maternity leave is not an option and similarly, having their employees do so, is also very difficult.  

Three myths about career success and maternity leave:

Myth #1: Re-thinking maternity leave will be set back working mothers.
Reality:  The current frame on maternity leave is increasingly irrelevant to the growing number of mothers who are freelancers, self-employed, part-time or consultants. Failing to discuss options that would support this group is detrimental to families.

Myth #2: A “successful” maternity leave requires an extended seclusion from work.

Reality: As a result of technology, women engaged in the knowledge economy, have an expectation that they will continue to stay connected to work.

Myth #3: Changing maternity leave will negatively impact families.

Reality:  Maternity leave is just one component in a larger discussion that needs to happen regarding finding new ways to support families as they care for aging parents as well as children. A new conversation that reflects both the changing landscape of work and families is what is needed.

Reva Seth’s book, The Mom Shift: Women Share Their Stories of Career Success After Children is based on interviews with over 500 women who shared the variety of ways they are structuring their family and careers. One of the unexpected findings was with regards to the changing views on maternity leave.

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