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Canadians facing ‘pervasive motherhood penalty’ at work, report says – National |



Working women in Canada are facing a “pervasive motherhood penalty,” with 70 per cent of employed mothers saying they don’t feel they have adequate support from their employers, according to a new report.

The report by Maturn and The Brand is Female published Wednesday highlighted a string of challenges working mothers in Canada face during and after maternity leave and the steps employers can take to better support them.

“I think what this report really illuminates is that pervasive motherhood penalty, which is a systemic problem that contributes significantly to the wage gap, prompts women to leave and exit the workforce and really hinders their ability to ascend into leadership positions,” said Sonja Baikogli Foley, co-founder of Maturn, a Canadian organization supporting mothers through maternity leave transition.

Almost half of the Canadian working mothers who were surveyed said they were not satisfied with their employer’s support during maternity leave and as a result, a third also considered quitting their jobs.

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“Those are really big stats that we should be paying attention to because working mothers are an integral part of our economy,” Foley said in an interview with Global News.

“We need to revisit how we are looking and treating mothers in our organizations and as a society as a whole.”

Click to play video: 'Why some mothers are feeling discriminated against by their employers'

Why some mothers are feeling discriminated against by their employers

More than 1,000 employed mothers in Canada who had taken maternity leave over the last seven years were surveyed online in October 2023 and those findings were included in the report.

More than half (52 per cent) of the women polled said they were anxious about returning to work after maternity leave and 49 per cent said the feeling of having to prove their professional worth again upon return was the most challenging part of mat leave related to their career.

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Toronto mom Denise Kara was in that same boat not too long ago.

Kara, who spoke to Global News in January, said it felt “a bit deflating” to return to work after being on maternity leave for one year.

Being away from the workforce, Kara, like many others, found herself with question marks about where her career was headed next.

“Just taking that year off, while it’s great spending time with my little one, I’ve had a really great time, it’s just hard trying to figure out where you fit back in once you re-enter the workforce,” she said in a recent interview with Global News.

Click to play video: 'Impact inflation, living costs have on birth rates and Canadians on parental leave'

Impact inflation, living costs have on birth rates and Canadians on parental leave

New mothers find it hard to transition back to work because of an overwhelming feeling of a lack of support, understanding, empathy and flexibility, said Jen Murtagh, co-founder of Maturn.

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“When we think about the way organizations are set up, they were set up primarily by men, for men and with men in mind,” she said.

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“And even though women are now in the most senior leadership positions, we’re still operating inside of some of these old structures that don’t really support working parents in general.”

For over a third (36 per cent) of the mothers surveyed, the fear of being sidelined from their organization was the most challenging part of the maternity leave career-wise and 33 per cent said it was a loss of confidence in their abilities.

The post-mat leave transition to work is made difficult especially if you come back to a new or changed role, Murtagh said.

What is the ‘motherhood penalty’?

The “motherhood penalty” is the financial penalty that women may experience for having children – from seeing their income dip or getting lower starting salaries to being sidelined for promotions and being viewed as less competent or committed to their job, Murtagh said.

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The Maturn report described the motherhood penalty as a systemic issue contributing to the wage gap, the exit of women from the workforce and the impeding of women’s progression into leadership roles.

Click to play video: 'Motherhood puts $1 million wage gap between men and women: study'

Motherhood puts $1 million wage gap between men and women: study

Another recent report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) also found that women employees in the private sector often face a small “motherhood penalty,” where their pay drops when they have children. That discrimination was not seen in the public sector, according to the analysis.

Women with children face a decrease in potential earnings due to “deeply entrenched gender stereotypes,” the CCPA report said.

Allison Venditti, founder of Moms at Work, said the “motherhood penalty” is pervasive not only in Canada but across the world.

“There is this very pervasive belief that women who have children should be prioritizing their children and should not be working,” she said in an interview with Global News.

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Supporting mothers at work

In Canada, those on maternity and parental leave get Employment Insurance benefits of up to 55 per cent of their salary, with a maximum weekly pay of up to $668.

The birth parent is eligible for maternity leave for the first 15 weeks after the birth of a child. After that, it switches to parental leave, with up to 40 weeks that can be shared between both parents.

Parents are also eligible for extended benefits up to 61 weeks for one parent and 69 weeks shared between both. In that case, they get up to 33 per cent of their pay and a maximum of $401 weekly.

Those EI benefit payments are not enough, advocates say.

Click to play video: 'Re-entering the workforce after having a baby'

Re-entering the workforce after having a baby

Foley said a maternity leave top-up is “incredibly important” for mothers to be able to make ends meet and take care of their baby while they’re on leave.

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“We need to look at it from a more holistic perspective of what is it that mothers need so that they can feel supported and not penalized for taking maternity leave,” she said.

Nearly 40 per cent of working women said in the Maturn poll that they did not receive a maternity leave top-up from their employer and 59 per cent of those who did were not offered other benefits such as coaching programs, counselling or child-care assistance.

Click to play video: 'NDP raise concerns about EI benefits denied to new parents who are laid off from work'

NDP raise concerns about EI benefits denied to new parents who are laid off from work

Venditti said maternity leave top-ups are a “nice addition” but she doesn’t believe it’s a “magic fix.”

“I think that treating someone better, bringing them back, keeping them informed, making them feel valued is going to do a lot of things that top-up can’t,” she said.

The Maturn report makes several recommendations to employers to better support working mothers during and after maternity leave.

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These include training, prioritizing flexibility, gradual return to work policies, offering reduced hours and increasing personal and family days.

The report also recommends having on-site child-care facilities, supplementing paid paternity leave and keeping the lines of communication open.

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