Leigh Billinghurst, mom and our brand new Senior Director of People & Culture sat down with Elaine Kwok, non-mom and Director of Marketing. They chatted about what it’s like to be a working mom, how companies can support moms, and what it’s like to develop and receive that support.
Has the way you’ve approached HR changed since becoming a mom?
If I look back in my career and I look at a time when I did manage and didn’t have kids, I had no empathy. If you’re not in this situation, you don’t understand what people are going through. Someone who doesn’t have kids would just automatically think “OK well, their child is done school at 3 o’clock and they can be in daycare until 5 o’clock.”
But there’s something called Mom Guilt.
The big thing that I’ve taken away from this pandemic is that mom guilt is real, and it’s more real now than it was three years ago because we never knew what we were missing out on. You’re missing out on some really important parts of their life.
One of the things I think about every single day is, “Am I making the right moves in terms of focusing on my career? Or should I be taking that time out to focus on my child and be there for all those times?”
You’ve got to find that balance and I think that working for an organization that values working parents and provides that flexibility, that’s where you find your happy spot, because you can kind of have the best of both worlds.
As the Senior Director of People & Culture, what are some of the things you want to put in place to support moms?
Top up programs for anyone who goes on maternity, paternity, or parental leave, because financially, it’s a draw. With the comfort of that extra income, you’re able to enjoy your leave that much more. Also developing plans to ensure that the gap doesn’t affect any sort of growth opportunity for individuals.
The tech industry skews young and male, and the energy industry is very male-dominated. Do you think that a company’s industry affects how they accommodate the needs of parents?
It’s more about the culture of the organization and how many parents are employed there. When I first got into the tech world, I was the first mom to join the organization. It was very much a younger crowd. But there was a culture of transparency and understanding, so we were able to adapt and evolve in a short period of time. We brought on a parental leave program where they had a top up for both men and women.
Is there a big difference between moms and dads when it comes to taking parental leave and how that affects their careers?
I think we’ve come a long way where more men are taking leave, but our society still has a lot of work to do to have men and women treated the same way when it comes to leave and parental responsibilities. I think naturally a lot of the responsibilities fall onto women. It’s sad to see that some women are giving up their work just because someone has to take care of the kids. For example, if you’re a healthcare professional, you can’t work from home and you can’t bring your kid to work.
Hopefully with all these tools that we’re looking to implement – like flexibility, education, and growth paths – we’ll overcome some of that bias.
I mean, realistically anybody could go on leave. You could get hit by car and be gone for a year.
It’s hard to find good talent. It’s a competitive world out there. So, making investments in people regardless of their situation will come back and benefit the organization in the long run. One year goes by extremely fast. It’s definitely worth the investment.
You told me a story yesterday about how when you announced your pregnancy, you actually got a promotion.
I had been at the organization for almost a year when I found out I was pregnant and told my boss. I was a supervisor on the account side at that time. A week later they asked me to step into a Director of Talent Acquisition role that just opened up.
What was it like starting a new position, then going on leave a few months later?
It was about 9 months, so I was able to get into the role and get comfortable in the position. Things were running somewhat smoothly when I went on leave.
They were extremely, extremely supportive. It was quite emotional, and I think that that’s something that’s really stuck with me, too. It’s probably why I’ve have such a soft spot for providing those types of accommodations and treating everybody fairly, no matter what their situation.
How was it when you came back?
I came back part time after six months, so I had the opportunity to slowly integrate back into working. Once my mat leave was up, I jumped right back into full time.
It was really helpful. I know a lot of organizations are providing 30 days when somebody is coming back from any type of leave, whether it’s maternity or stress leave. They have 30 days to be able to come back part-time. They’re back on the payroll like a regular employee, but they can work from home, and they can have those flexible or limited schedules just to slowly ease in.
I imagine that’s a really emotional time.
That mom guilt kicks in where it’s like, “How could I not be there?” They start walking at daycare, they start talking. We miss out on all these wonderful things.
What’s the most important thing companies can offer to make lives for working parents easier?
Flexibility is key and being able to have open conversations and dialogue.
One of the reasons I joined Peak Power was because it’s important for me to work with an organization that provides flexibility. I live about an hour commute outside of Toronto. Just having that flexibility to be able to work on the GO train and have meetings that are a little bit later. Most importantly, feeling comfortable to talk to my manager about it. It’s nice that Derek’s a parent, so he understands.
Honestly, the most stressful part of the day is figuring out the logistics around getting to the office. Figuring out that drop-off, getting on the train, getting to work on time, and then getting out at a certain time to be able to do the pick-up.
So your meetings might start at 10 or 11am and end at 2pm?
It’s so funny because it’s such a simple thing, but it’s such a big deal.
Being able to work on the GO train on the way in, or work in the in the evening just to balance out the day. Having that autonomy to be able to make those decisions that work with you, your family, and your lifestyle.