Perhaps you’ve heard of the Motherhood Penalty, which is when someone sees a negative impact on their wages due to becoming a mother. Data shows that women typically experience a drop in earnings starting in the first year after having a child, and spanning 5 years after giving birth. This is especially true for those who are younger, namely 25-29 year olds who experience an average of a 14% loss in earnings. Women of colour, Indigenous women, new Canadians, and women with a disability are often affected even more. This really hurts when you consider that women earn on average 70% of what men make doing the same jobs.
This drop in earnings in the first year can be attributed to maternity and parental leave – Canada only offers up to 55% salary reimbursement for maternity and parental leave, and if companies don’t provide a top up, parents, especially mothers, see a deduction of nearly half their salary – at least. After having a child, mothers are also more likely to switch to a more flexible, or part time position, in order to care for the child; or even consider leaving their jobs due to a lack of affordable childcare. This trend is not true for fathers.
The timing of having a child also impacts women’s careers. More than 33% of women between 25 to 34, which is a key period of career development and advancement, have a child under 6. This means that women are taking up to 18 months off during a crucial period of their career, and may have to work less upon their return to the workforce, because the burden of childcare is typically placed on the woman.
Taking maternity leave, especially the extended 18 month option, can also reflect negatively on mothers. A study showed that women who take a longer leave are often seen by employers as less ambitious or dedicated to their job. Anecdotal evidence from women who have taken leave corroborate this, with some saying they felt overlooked for promotions or open positions due to their leave. Never mind the fact that women have so many other roles - caring for aging parents, bearing many of the parental duties around home and school, with community engagement, etc.
Clearly, there are many issues here that come together to negatively impact mothers. So, what can we do?
Provide fully covered maternity and parental leave.
Maternity and parental leave is currently covered at up to 55%. To negate the impact of taking leave, Canada should reimburse leave at 100%. This would eliminate the reduction in earnings in the first year.
Encourage fathers to take leave, and fully cover this leave.
Canada introduced paternity benefits in 2019, but they are only covered at 55%, and it is currently unclear how many fathers take advantage of this leave. However, Quebec introduced paternity leave paid at 70% in 2006, and 86% of fathers take this leave. Having dedicated leave, reimbursed at a higher rate, can encourage fathers to take leave.
This is important because fathers taking substantial leave (more than a few weeks) increases how much men participate in childcare and household responsibilities, and increases the likelihood that women stay in full-time employment.
Broaden access to leave benefits so lower income families can take advantage.
Canada’s leave policies have narrow eligibility requirements, meaning close to 40% of mothers and 56% of low-income families are excluded. Research has shown that broadening policies by reducing the amount of time people must work to earn benefits, increasing the benefit rate, and eliminating wait times for benefits led to an improvement in use among low-income families. Policies need to be less restrictive and allow all parents to take advantage.
Have more accessible and affordable childcare options.
Canada is introducing $10 a day daycare administered by the provinces, which is a great step towards more affordable childcare. Although it may be sometime before families realize the savings if it is slow on the rollout. However, this childcare also needs to be accessible. There needs to be an increase in the number of spaces in daycare centres for all children, and this daycare needs to be affordable for families at all income levels. Daycare needs to also have extended hours to accommodate all work schedules. If childcare is accessible and affordable, it will help the mother return to work, and having flexible day care can mean the mother can continue to work full-time.
Companies need to be more inclusive, understanding, flexible, and accommodating.
Companies often have a negative view of mothers, and motherhood can negatively impact career development and advancement opportunities. Companies need to make changes to accommodate parents, including flexible work practices, scheduling meetings around childcare, such as school pickup and drop-off times, and encouraging men to take parental leave. Both parents need to take advantage of flexibility, leave, etc., so the burden and impact does not continue to fall on the mother.