Poll of the Day: Like it or Not, Maternity Leave Hurts Your Career

In The Globe and Mail, Leah Eichler writes:

In Canada, we may pride ourselves on our generous parental benefits, but even the most family-friendly employer will secretly groan when notified about an employee’s pregnancy. There is no denying that long career interruptions affect a mother’s earnings, too. The average hourly earnings of childless women were close to 30-per-cent higher than mothers who took more than three years off by age 40, according to a 2009 Statistics Canada report. Mothers who took a shorter leave by age 33, however, were able to catch up to their childless peers.

Ms. Stephens-Tolstoy eventually left the corporate world and returned to Toronto where she launched Tokii, a website designed to help couples improve their relationships. She says running a startup allows her to offer her female employees much more flexibility. This level of understanding can be difficult to find in the business world.

At one point in her corporate career, she hired a woman who had taken eight years off to raise her family. The woman later made vice-president, but her example is the exception, not the rule. In other instances, Ms. Stephens-Tolstoy remembers hiring women who had taken long leaves and then cringed when they quit after a few months. “Everyone is rolling their eyes [when that happens] because it’s what they expect women to do,” she said.

Any whiff of a lack of commitment haunts women when they try to return to the work force. For mothers trying to navigate their back-to-work plan, overcoming perceptions about loyalty and commitment are not their only obstacles. Creating a résumé, preparing for an interview and being up-to-date on industry topics can all be daunting, says Beatrix Dart, associate dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and executive director of the Rotman Initiative for Women in Business.

Dr. Dart said the demand for this sort of program is so great, they could have filled the program four times over.  Toronto-Dominion Bank sponsors the program and other supporting organizations include KPMG Inc., Microsoft Canada, Rogers Communications and Xerox Canada. What company wouldn’t want to bring highly skilled women back into their companies? “They are probably your most loyal and grateful employees for having the chance to come back in,” Dr. Dart mused.

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