Parental Leave and Women in STEM

March 28, 2018

Written by: Alicen Ricard

Being a new parent is hard enough without having to worry about both money and having a job to go back to. An article in Maclean’s points out part of the problem, “Mothers feel guilty if they don’t take enough parental leave and fathers feel guilty if they take too much.” This makes it hard for women to be successful, especially in STEM careers. Research shows that venture-backed companies are more successful if they have women executives versus just ones who are men, but it’s harder for women to get into these roles with the current stigma behind maternity leave and the balance between work and family. More women would not only enter STEM careers, but stay in STEM careers if they were offered paid maternity leave.

Source: Vice

It’s no secret how hard it is to take parental leave in the United States. However, there are companies trying to change that, most of them being tech companies. Netflix has given new parents up to a year of paid leave. Etsy gives 26 weeks. Adobe has 26 weeks of maternity leave and 16 weeks of paternity leave. Facebook and Instagram both give 17 weeks. However, it’s a lot harder if you don’t work for a giant corporation. Things are slowly getting better with paid leave for both parents becoming the norm in California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey.

Source: CUPE

There are places that are definitely doing parental leave well. Business Insider did an article on countries that have the best parental leave policies in the world. In Denmark moms get 18 weeks of maternity leave for full pay and fathers get two weeks. After that, parents can split an additional 32 weeks (but not at full pay). Iceland gives nine months of leave after the child is born for 80% salary. Both parents get three months and they can split the remaining three months however they wish. Hungary gives 24 weeks of maternity leave at 70% salary, with one leave of paternity leave at 100%. Parents can then split an additional 156 weeks. Serbia gives up to 26 weeks of maternity leave fully paid, with one week of paternity leave. In Norway they give 35 weeks of fully paid (or 45 weeks at 80%) maternity leave and zero to 10 weeks of paternity leave, based on income of the wife. After that, they can take 46 more fully paid weeks to split, or 56 weeks at 80%. Lithuania gives mothers 18 fully paid weeks of leave, and fathers get 4. They can then share another 156 weeks (either paid out at 100% salary for the first 52 weeks or 70% for the first 104 weeks. The rest is unpaid).

Source: Maternity Package - Wikipedia

Two other countries that are known for having excellent parental leave policies are Sweden and Finland. Finland gives mothers maternity leave 7 weeks before their due date to 16 weeks after, fully paid no matter what. Fathers also get 8 weeks of fully paid leave. Parents can then take partial leave after the child turns three, where they can split time between work and home, up until the child enters grade two.  Finland is also known for giving out Maternity packages, which supply new parents with essentials they will need. Scotland does similar boxes, called Baby Boxes. Sweden knows that it’s important to have leave for both parents, and to share it. Parental leave in Sweden is 480 days per kid to be shared between parents. Each parent has to take three “use-it-or-lose-it” months. More fathers in Sweden are taking time off than before, in comparison to Canada where it’s far more difficult to take time off.

Source: Institute for Research on Public Policy

In Canada the parental leave policies changed late last year. We already had a 12 month of maternity leave system, but in December it changed to 12 or 18 months of leave that can be split between both parents. Women were able to start their leave 8 weeks before their due date, and that has been increased to 12 weeks. The leave is extended but that just means that you’re getting your benefits at a lower rate. Many people won’t be covered by these new benefits though. The Liberals have been trying to create dedicated leave for fathers and non-birthing parents, but nothing has happened yet. Quebec has their own parental leave system, with dedicated leave for both parents.  Liberals have talked for years about trying to create a parental leave system like Quebec’s but nothing has come of that yet, either.

The solution is not putting all the pressure on just one parent. If you share child raising, more women will be able to remain in STEM careers. This study shows "women who experienced high levels of work-family conflict were less likely to be retained by their employers compared to their male colleagues." We’re finally realizing the importance of parental leave including paternity leave. The Atlantic stated, “…the biggest beneficiaries aren’t men, or even babies. In the long run, the true beneficiaries of paternity leave are women, and the companies and nations that benefit when women advance.” Women still believe they can’t “have it all” and better parental leave policies could help fix that. It’s possible to have both a career and a family—women just can’t do it alone.  

To hear more stories of women balancing STEM careers and families, check out our podcast, and click here for the parental leave policies in Canada.