Extending parental leave costly for women
Parental leave is a total misnomer.
When a baby is born, women continue to carry the torch on early child care, taking up to a year in maternity leave. Few men do the same.
The stigma tied to men taking parental leave is still alive and kicking in this country. Women instead are placing their careers on hold to do the bulk of the child rearing for up to a year — and a year is already a lifetime in the world of work.
The 2017 budget proposes to allow parents to take an extended parental leave up to 18 months, which, in reality, means women can remain out of the workforce for much longer.
How does this help women? It doesn’t.
For one, an extended maternity leave will have a massive chilling effect on employers hiring women. When an employer hires a woman who later goes on maternity leave, it is required by law to keep her job open for her until she returns.
Few small employers have the bandwidth to hire temporary workers to fill the vacancies that maternity leaves create. Many owners will themselves have to step in to pick up the extra work, which will undoubtedly deter employers from hiring women.
More than that, 18 months out of the workforce will leave a woman with less opportunities for raises and promotions when she indeed returns to work. The fact is, women who take longer maternity leaves will have much less work experience than their male counterparts. There will be less female leadership, fewer women in management and smaller percentages of women sitting on boards.
Women are not immune from termination while on maternity leave. If an employer has a legitimate reason, including a department wide restructure where jobs are eliminated, new moms will be less likely to come back to work. First on the chopping block are generally jobs that are vacant at the time of a restructuring.
Downsizing aside, women are, time and again, discriminated against for taking lengthy maternity leaves and are terminated within weeks of their impending return. I have seen many cases where organizations do not want to deal with the logistical and often expensive conundrum of transitioning out temporary workers and terminate new moms instead.
Exacerbating this problem is that most new moms are not paid anything while on maternity leave, leaving them to rely on employment insurance.
Eighteen months out of the workforce will place some women in dire financial straits, especially considering hefty family expenses. If a female employee is terminated before she returns to work, she is less likely to have the means to hire a lawyer if she took an extended maternity leave. The extended parental leave also has implications for the labour force as a whole. The private sector, teeming with meritocracy-based organizations will be threatened when jobs are protected for 18 months. Positions that have been dog-eared by a parental leave will leave hard working employees less options to move up in organizations. Productivity will stagnate.
In all, an 18-month maternity leave is bad for business. It’s a breeding ground for discrimination and will widen the gender pay gap. Until men are incentivized to take parental leave and level the playing field, Canada is simply not ready for it.