I spent my 20s and 30s focused on building my career. After years spent working in public relations, I launched my own PR firm SilverStrategy and immersed myself in the local tech and startup scene. By my mid-30s, I finally had everything I had always wanted: the agency, great clients, revenue, a fabulous social life, and after dating the love of my life, James for several years, we married in 2017. James and I were ready to live happily ever after. Roll credits.
We went on a honeymoon, bought a home and got pregnant. Finding out we were going to be parents brought up a mixed bag of emotions. Of course it was everything we had hoped for, but still, I couldn’t help but wonder how that news would affect everything I had built for myself, my career and my clients. While navigating those emotions, I worried about how to manage as a working mom in America after coming from a country that was proud of how it supported mothers and working families. I felt distressed when comparing the maternity leave policies of the United States to Canada’s since in Canada, new moms receive 12 months of maternity leave; more on this point later on.
Having a baby can cause excitement and joy, but it can also stir up feelings of fear and anxiety because, let’s be honest, it’s a life changer and the biggest responsibility someone will ever have. On top of that, there are not enough guidelines, protections and policies that support mothers (and fathers), leaving working moms with inadequate options.
Currently, the U.S. has some of the most limited maternity leave policies, when compared to other countries around the world. While few companies do offer generous benefits, some women are hesitant to take the full maternity leave offered due to fear of repercussions in the workplace. Contrary to these policies, statistics show that taking care of employees who become new parents leads to greater loyalty, commitment and job satisfaction. So what gives?
In the U.S., mothers are offered 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth of a baby and it’s up to employers to offer any additional benefits. This is unfortunate for women who strive to balance work with motherhood during their baby’s first few precious months and year. Many mothers feel they don’t have that option or feel like staying at home for a little longer can be a career killer.
In the startup ecosystem, the same issues are occurring for maternity leave options, a reflection of what’s happening with leave around the nation (aside from the incredible benefits coming from some on the West Coast like Facebook, Google, etc – way to go!). In the self-employment realm, it gets even more daunting. This often includes contract workers or anyone that’s part of the gig economy. This greatly impacts the startup community, as most startups don’t begin with any infrastructure, including full-time staff or an HR department. This can often take years to implement, leaving founders, their support team and independent vendors shit out of luck.
This obviously isn’t ideal when it comes to encouraging innovation in the U.S.
The U.S. government and local leadership should be paying more attention to this self-employment sector, which has been reinforced by the increasing demand for coworking spaces and the on-demand economy. We can only expect that this trend will continue to grow and most definitely have an impact on our society, affecting every aspect of what the future economy and country looks like (ie. healthcare, social security, savings, retirement, etc).
Canada is a step ahead by already addressing these developing changes. Not only does Canada have standard parental benefits that allow workers to be paid for up to a year, with job security for two years, but they also offer maternity leave options for their self-employed workers. Being born and raised in Canada and understanding the policies and contexts that allow women to care for their newborn(s) for up to a year, makes me realize that the U.S. is laggard in this realm and not a leader when it comes to supporting working mothers.
Many of us don’t want to have to choose between career and motherhood, and we need to demand better to allow women to flourish within both of these environments.
As a new mom, I constantly worry about getting back into the swing of things after taking the time to scale back over the last few months. I’ve been fortunate to work for myself and for clients who have been supportive and accepting of my life, and the initial time constraints that come with being a new mother. While on my own maternity leave, I struggled with the right time to go back to work. I see women being judged daily for their decisions on returning to work, often because of finances and the culture that has been adopted in the U.S. We need to STOP. What’s right for one family may not be what’s right for another.
So here’s to you, new moms, don’t let anyone else judge your own timeline.
If we are going to be able to make these healthy and important decisions that affect the core family values that America is so proud of, then we must support women so they can continue to bring value to businesses across America and become the next generation of Founders and CEO’s. We must ask our ecosystems and government to evolve with the new reality, and that the term “employment” is no longer one size fits all.
With spring approaching, along with it comes a new phase in life. I have to find a balance, a new way to juggle responsibilities and new identities. It’s a work in progress, and every day I am given an opportunity to review what is working and what could be improved. Learning how to prioritize and adapt has given me the tools I need to grow as both a mother and an even stronger entrepreneur. I can only hope that my own ecosystem continues to represent these same values.-30-