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Women in Capital Markets announces a Parental Leave Pledge

By Aymen Sherwani, July 25 2022

Women in Capital Markets (WCM) is a national not-for-profit company that works to accelerate equity, diversity and inclusion in North American finance — but also the corporate world at large — that has announced the launch of its Parental Leave Pledge. The pledge invites organizations to commit to increasing fathers’ and non-birth parents’ use of leave upon the birth or adoption of children in an attempt to normalize the use of leave in the first place — acknowledging the barriers of returning to work when one decides to have a family which prevent many young professionals from considering this in the first place.

The pledge lists seven key commitments that organizations can take to ensure that leave policies and practices are more inclusive for all parents. These include providing paid leave top-ups to all parents, fostering a supportive culture that normalizes parental leave for everyone, working to make the leave process as easy as possible, ensuring that careers and earnings are unaffected by leaves, communicating leave policies to all employees, collecting and analyzing organizational data on leave use, and publicly stating the organization’s support for leave.

“There’s a lot of stigma related to parental leave and we’re a big believer that if we can eliminate that stigma then more women will decide to stay in the industry after starting a family,” said Lara Zink, president and CEO of WCM, in an interview with the Gauntlet. “Women with careers in finance are six times more likely to leave the industry after starting a family — there’s also a lot of cultural barriers behind that. There’s a bias against women, perhaps in some organizations, that they’re not as ambitious, because “Oh, they’ve had one child, now they’re maybe gonna have another and they’re not prioritizing their career.””

According to Zink, most women are not offered the same level of opportunities upon returning to work after maternity leave — mentioning how, in the legal field, many women on the way to becoming partners at legal firms are held back on their trajectories, should they decide to have children. If someone were to look at the corporate world 30 years ago, the first thing that would come to mind would be the eerily mechanical and hyper-masculine lifestyles of businessmen in American Psycho — whose lifestyles are so cult-like and identical that it’s difficult to discern anyone from their coworkers. Obviously movies exaggerate things, but what American Psycho did get right is the degree to which workplaces have been cesspools for White, heterosexual  hyper-masculinity — leaving very little room for diversity and those who do not conform to traditional ways of living. It’s hard for women to work in companies — let alone return to companies after giving birth — if the structures that exist are not meant for them to begin with.

“Traditionally, post-industrial revolution, the workplace was designed by men for men,” said Zink. “The media talks about women opting out of the labour force. The reality is that, for some women, especially highly-educated women, many times they’re actually pushed out. A lot of workplaces are designed as ‘‘all-or-nothing work cultures’’ that require a lot of workers commitment and dedication without making a lot of space for non-work responsibilities.”

What we are witnessing now are the growing pains of a system that is coming to recognize the once unfathomable notion that the sole purpose of women isn’t to sit at home and raise children. WCM’s Parental Leave Pledge is just one step forward in recognizing that the presence of women in the workplace is an asset and should be accommodated for as such. While women are the key beneficiaries here, it is important not to forget how monumental such measures could look like for same-sex parents — especially if they do not wish to disclose their sexualities in the workplace.

The pledge also highlights some of the penalties that fathers and non-birth parents can experience when using or requesting leave, such as negative reactions and judgments from coworkers and managers. Often such responses stem from the deeply rooted gendered norms that continue to operate in many organizations and which position non-birth parents as secondary caregivers.

“Our research found that only 50 per cent of men respondents agreed that taking maternity leave was encouraged by their organization,” said Zink. “So 82 per cent of men said that they worked in an unsupportive work culture and that that was a barrier to leave — 100 per cent of men said that traditional restrictive gender stereotypes also acted as a barrier.”

When asked what advice she had for young professionals, Zink ensures women that compromisation is not the solution.

“You do not have to settle — and many women do unfortunately settle for lower paying industries and job opportunities but I really hope that your generation understands that there’s no reason for female identifying professionals to compromise,” concluded Zink.

Visit WCM’s website for more information about the pledge or to sign up for their student membership programs that connects you to mentoring, job opportunities and other developmental program targeted towards workplace equity.

This article is a part of our Voices section.

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