Sept. 25, 2018
For Immediate Release
Waterloo — Why do women who take a full year of maternity leave tend to be less likely to advance into management positions than women who take shorter leaves? What can be done to enable women to take longer leaves while also advancing in their careers?
Those are the questions Ivona Hideg, an associate professor of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resource Management at the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, addressed in the latest issue of the prestigious Harvard Business Review.
In an article entitled, “Do Longer Maternity Leaves Hurt Women’s Careers?,” Hideg and her co-authors discuss the findings of their latest research, which is set to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.
Hideg and three other members of her research team detail the lab-based experiments they used to understand why professional women’s careers often take a hit when they take long leaves. They find that women who take longer maternity leaves (i.e., one year) are not perceived as highly ambitious and committed to their work, and thus are seen as unsuited to management positions.
The research is particularly timely given the changes to parental-leave benefits the federal government enacted in 2017 that allow new parents to receive Employment Insurance benefits for as long as 18 months.
Hideg has called long leaves “something of a poisoned chalice” because of the career risks they present to professional women. She says many women are not aware of those risks until they return to work and learn they have been passed over for promotions, or that their colleagues no longer see them as career-focused.
“It’s not something that is often talked about,” said Hideg. “But we wanted to let women and organizational leaders and government policy makers know with this article that this is a real phenomenon.
“We are not advocating that women not take longer leaves,” she said. “Quite the opposite: we believe longer leaves are beneficial to the well-being and health of both the child and mother. But we do think organizations and our society more broadly need to ensure women are not penalized for that.”
The study is the first of its kind to investigate what steps new mothers and organizations can take to ensure that professional women can fulfil their dual ambitions of motherhood and rewarding careers.
Hideg’s research found that having a manager speak highly of a female colleague who has taken a long maternity leave, and especially pointing to the fact that the female colleague is still ambitious and career-oriented, can help to shift perceptions of that woman’s ambition and career commitment.
As well, corporate “keep-in-touch” programs that allow women to stay connected with work while they are on leave can also help. Hideg says organizations in the field of law, engineering and consulting are beginning to see the benefits of such initiatives.
“With these programs, women can stay in touch as much as they want to,” said Hideg. “Typically, one person, such as a manager, is assigned to update them from time to time on projects or clients, even asking them for input to allow them to stay engaged.”
In her previous research, Hideg has studied the role sexism plays in gender diversity in corporate leadership, as well as how “benevolent” sexist attitudes promote and undermine gender diversity in the workplace.
Hideg sees her research as a way to tackle some of the most important challenges facing corporations so that organizations can foster more diverse and equitable workforces.
In 2016, her research was rewarded with a prestigious Early Researcher Award from Ontario’s Ministry of Research and Innovation. Earlier this year, she received Laurier’s inaugural Early Career Researcher Awards, which recognizes faculty members who are within the first five years of their academic career and who have made significant contributions to research in their area of expertise and toward training students.
She is dedicated to graduate student development and training and leads the EDGE (Emotion, Diversity, and Gender Equity) lab where she works with graduate and undergraduate students on issues surrounding gender and cultural workplace diversity as well as issues involving the management of emotions in the workplace.
Hideg’s article can be found in the Harvard Business Review.
An abstract of the study appears in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
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