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Child-care top-ups, paid parental leave part of push for gender equity at B.C. companies

From real estate to law firms, businesses say they hope to attract and retain more women through programs that accommodate mothers
Maturn offers maternity leave programs as well as coaching and workshops for how companies can navigate parental support | Vera Vita / Moment / Getty Images

More companies across B.C. say they’re investing in women through maternity leave programs meant to ensure expecting and new mothers are better supported. 

Among these companies is female-founded Illuma Family Law, which says it’s the first law firm in B.C. to offer parental leave and child-care top-ups to its employees. 

“The goal is to make women and parents feel celebrated rather than being a burden,” said Abby Pang, principal and founder of Illuma Family Law.  

“And really, it's to challenge other law firms and bigger corporations who can actually afford it to start considering this as something that should be offered,” she added.  

Jen Murtagh, co-founder of Maturn Services Inc., a company that provides maternity leave programs and coaching, said that she has noticed an increase in companies beginning to invest in maternity leave programs.  

“They're looking at this as a way to attract and develop female talent because maternity leave and the year surrounding it represents the largest single point in which women actually off-ramp from organizations,” Murtagh said.  

Real estate development companies such as Concert Properties Ltd., Bosa Properties Inc. and Beedie have all invested in Maturn’s maternity leave programs, according to Murtagh.   

The construction and real estate development industries are viewed as “traditionally male-dominated” and there has been a growing need to create more equity for women to attract and retain more female employees, she said.  

This is similar to the legal industry, said Pang, where women represent approximately 34 per cent of all practising lawyers in the province and only about 29 per cent of lawyers in full-time private practice, according to The Law Society of B.C.  

While the lack of female representation contributes to the slow uptake of parental leave programs and supports, Pang said this is also rooted in the nature of the job.  

“Legal positions have always been very competitive, you take what you can when you're a young lawyer,” she said. “Since the pandemic, people really have been starting to rethink their values and I feel that family health and mental health is more important than ever right now.”  

Support for expecting and new mothers in the workplace can touch on a plethora of aspects, such as fear of being replaced, an increasing pay gap, proper reintegration following time off, and adjusting to new professional and family responsibilities, according to Murtagh.  

“Women have traditionally been very apologetic about the fact that they're getting pregnant, that they're adopting or going through surrogacy with a child. And a lot of companies have traditionally treated this as kind of a big pain,” Murtagh said. 

The B.C. government introduced new transparency legislation on Tuesday (March 7), one day ahead of International Women’s Day. The new legislation is meant to close the gender pay gap and as it comes into effect, employers will be required to disclose information on wages. 

B.C. women earned 18.6 per cent less per hour on average than men, according to Statistics Canada data from 2018. For many mothers that pay gap is higher, a term coined “the motherhood penalty,” according to Murtagh. 

In the year following the birth of a first child, women aged 25-34 can experience a decrease in earnings of approximately 48 per cent, according to RBC Economic Research.  

In the five years after the birth of a child, women who are aged 25 to 29 can see an additional 14 per cent in loss of earnings. Expecting or new fathers, on the other hand, typically see no losses in earnings. 

Both Murtagh and Pang expressed that the use of programs like parental leave show companies that equity in the workplace goes beyond just equal pay. 

Maturn’s maternity leave program works to meet parents and organizations at the intersection of motherhood and leadership, Murtagh said. From the moment a mother discloses to the organization that they are expecting a child, the program prepares the parent for the transition. 

“We've got weekly live coaching calls, an on demand program with over 40 global guest expert speakers, and then we get them ready for the return because that can feel really overwhelming navigating through the return of work,” she said.  

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