Thursday, 20 May 2010

Parental Leave in Canada: Progressive Policy vs. Antiquated Stereotypes

A warm welcome to my first guest blogger all the way from beautiful Vancouver! Cameron Phillips of Bettermen Solutions takes a look at parental leave in Canada.

“I am prepared to unload a legal cannon on my employer if that is what it takes,” says first time Albertan father, Will Green, “though that probably will mean that I will also be looking for a new job.”

Green wants to take parental leave from his upper management job, but he’s not having much luck. He takes little solace in the fact that he is not alone. The discrepancy between Canadian men who want to take parental leave and those who actually do is stark.

In many respects, Canadian parental leave is progressive. Women are given 15 weeks of paid maternity leave, often supplemented by their employer. After these 15 weeks, an additional 35 weeks of paid governmental leave can be split between a couple to use as they see fit. Some truly progressive employers offer dads salary top-ups if they choose to take a leave. It is no Sweden, but Canadians feel quite smug and satisfied when we view our neighbours to the south, forever espousing “family values” but failing to offer a single day of government paid parental leave.

This begs the question, with a relatively “father friendly” policy in place, why do fewer men end up taking parental leave than those who wish to do so? As Green’s case demonstrates, policy is one thing and workplace culture is another.

In his attempts to take his leave, Green has been told everything from, “You’re too valuable to the company” to “We can’t afford to cover for you while you are gone.” It is the more subtle resistance, however, that Green finds so impassable. These are the sorts of workplace-culture comments that suggest he has his priorities askew by not putting his job ahead of his family, or worse, that he is of more value to his family at the office rather than at home.

And then there is the cowboy culture of the Canadian West.

“In Alberta my wish to take a parental leave is not finding much support,” Green laments. “It seems it is just something that men in Alberta do not do for the most part.”

While on paper it would appear that policy trumps antiquated gender roles, reality would suggest that the old stereotypes, which ultimately judge a woman by her parenting skills and a man by his earning potential, are alive and thriving.

Cameron Phillips is the president and founder of Bettermen Solutions ( located in Vancouver, Canada. He gives corporate keynotes and workshops, designed to improve employee retention and workplace productivity through empowering men with better work life balance skills.

1 comment:

  1. I am about to tell me boss i am going on parental and am scared stiff!!!! I am most terrified of the reaction i will receive. I love my job and feel that i will jeopardize it by taking this leave.