Does maternity leave always mean the end of the corporate climb?

Does maternity leave always mean the end of the corporate climb?

Following Yahoo’s hiring of a pregnant Melissa Mayer to their top spot, there’s clear confidence that the birth of her first child isn’t going to affect her career climb.

In a poll on HRM Online the majority of respondents (44%) said taking maternity leave sometimes ended women’s careers. A third (32%) said maternity leave did not mark the end of a woman’s corporate ladder climb, while 24% said yes, it did.

It is illegal to discriminate against an employee because she is pregnant, whether that involved not hiring a candidate or passing someone over for promotion, but recruiters and employers have admitted in recent surveys that those who take maternity leave are less likely to be promoted.

In a 2010 survey 53% of employers said women who wanted to reach upper management should consider skipping maternity leave.

It’s a decision that Mayer has already made, indicating in interviews that she would take little maternity leave, with options such as working from home and flexible hours discussed.

Canadian women without children earned almost 30% more per hour than mothers who had taken more than three years off overall. However, women who took less leave eventually catch up to their childless peers.

For companies, it’s worth being wary about how they make decisions, even if there is no intention to discriminate. Statistics released earlier this year showed pregnancy related discrimination complaints had increased across the country. At the time, one Human Rights Commission spokesperson said women were becoming more aware of their rights and were taking action to make sure they received all the support they deserved. While the statistics didn’t show the outcome of the cases, any legal action is costly.

Your obligations: 

  • Pregnancy discrimination is considered part of sex discrimination and is not allowed to affect hiring decisions, promotions and pay rises, or termination.
  • Even if a worker has not been employed for a full year, they are entitled to maternity leave. This ranges from 15 weeks in Alberta to 18 weeks in Quebec and Saskatchewan.
  • Both parents are entitled to up to 37 weeks of parental leave. This can be unpaid, but their position must remain available to them unless there are independent reasons for internal restructuring