“Sorry I don’t make money from settling $85 event tickets,” says Gary, my labour lawyer. “Call me when something big happens, like you return from mat leave and get fired.”
I sigh. He’s right.
I’m six months into my second maternity leave and my team has been nominated for a big award, for the very department I manage. My boss lets me know if I want to attend the event, I will have to do so paying my own way. The firm tickets are spoken for. While $85 is a nominal fee to attend, it’s the principle of not being invited to celebrate with the team at an event recognizing women in the industry and being excluded by my female boss that is the cause of my ire. She has kids and has been through this. How could she do this? In a male-dominated office, where’s the sisterhood?
You can look at this situation a number of ways. Legally, as my lawyer reminds me, there is no obligation for my firm to include me; there is no obligation for me to attend. “Being on maternity leave, you’re like a professor on sabbatical,” says Gary. “You can’t just show up for the parties.”
Socially, morally and however else you want to define ‘what’s right’, the whole situation isn’t so kosher and quite offensive, says the employee on mat leave who still cares about staying in touch with her firm while away.
We know the stats. We know that statistically maternity leave or paternity leave hurts your career. Globally, a 2018 Harvard Business Review found that “the longer new mothers are away from paid work, the less likely they are to be promoted, move into management, or receive a pay raise once their leave is over.”
In a previous TD Economics study, it was found that women earned 20 per cent less over the course of their career compared to their male counterparts, half of which could be attributed to taking time off to raise children. This is the “Motherhood Gap”, where women roughly lost about three per cent of earnings per year not worked.
My paycheque compared to my husband’s reflects these stats. Being over 30 and feeling the biological pressure to have our children sooner than later, I’ve taken back-to-back mat leaves over a two-year period. In that time, my husband has had a promotion and a significant salary increase; meanwhile, my earnings, my bonuses’ have stayed stagnant. Despite indicating to my employer I was interested in career progression – more responsibility and a more senior title – I was told that my return to work for the 10-month period, in between having my two children, wasn’t long enough to earn it.
The decision to take maternity leave and for how long is a voluntary choice, however, I would argue the biology and mechanics of labour and breastfeeding don’t tilt that choice in your favour. While my husband and I are both professionals and make household decisions equally, it was having our first baby that made me realize we would never be equal again in the realm of balancing careers and parenthood. I’d be the solider at the front line taking more of the hit, staying home to recover and breastfeed, up at all hours in taking care of our children.
There is a reason that Sun Life only offers maternity leave top-ups to the women at the company taking maternity leave, who have physically birthed a child; not those taking paternity leave or who adopt. Whether this is fair or not, is a topic for another essay.
If there is a silver lining in all of this, our “motherhood gap,” it boils down to one thing: time. This is the most precious commodity of all. With each passing day on your maternity leave, you are given paid time off to not only spend with your baby, but also to think about your future.
It’s one of the few times in your career where you aren’t ‘hot boxed’ into your day-to-day, you have the freedom of the business day to explore other opportunities. In addition, that little human your taking care of is doing something else for you than just being your baby. They are your guide to a new level of inner confidence, showing you that you have the ability to take care of a human being and that will most certainly be a boon for you upon re-entering the workforce.
And if I saved the time of attending that awards ceremony and $85 on an event ticket to learn that, when it’s all said and done, that evening is a blip in the scheme of things. When I return to work, motherhood doesn't need to hold me back one bit.