Can women really have it all? The quest for kids, career and unconditional happiness is a common one these days. Just look at Marissa Mayer, Yahoo's newly appointed CEO. Three months shy of her first child, Mayer will not only need to master the challenges of parenting, but she'll have to do it while executing a complex turnaround at a multibillion-dollar enterprise.
Just a few years ago, Mayer's position would have seemed impossible. Back then women were forced to choose — babies or boardrooms. And while more and more women are bucking this trend and embarking on a life that includes both car seats and contracts, the road to a well-rounded life is anything but easy. In fact, recent studies have shown that Canada's working moms are still earning less, even though they're doing more.
According to recent figures from Statistics Canada, mothers make up a significant part of the nation's workforce. Approximately 73 percent of women with children under the age of 16 were employed as of 2009 (three decades ago that number was roughly 39 percent). The shocking part is these working mothers are paid, on average, less than their male counterparts, and in some cases, less than their childless female counterparts.
According to the 2010-2011 Statistics Canada survey, working mothers earn between 12 and 20 percent less than women without children. When compared to 43 other countries, Canada ranks 19th in terms of our "mother friendliness" - according to the most recent State of the World's Mothers Report, put out annually by the international charity Save the Children.
Uncovering our kryptonite
One of the major factors in economic inequality between mothers and non-mothers is the burden of childcare. According to a 2012 Statistics Canada report, mothers spend more than twice the time performing unpaid childcare services as compared to fathers, a factor that makes it virtually impossible to hold down a full-time job. As such, more and more mothers are opting to pick up part-time or seasonal employment as a way to further their careers. In fact, among women ages 25 to 44 working part-time in 2009, 35 percent stated they were doing so in order to care for their child.
This quest for work-life balance means that women are generally overrepresented in low-wage occupations. In 2009, nearly 7 out of every 10 part-time workers were women.
But child rearing isn't the only load mothers are forced to shoulder. In Canada, women spend an average of 13.8 hours a week on domestic chores versus 8.3 hours for men. That's a lot of work, even for someone with super powers and a cape.
Home vs. office
When it comes to "having it all" in Canada, working moms are up against some pretty stiff barriers. In North America, parenting is still largely recognized as a full-time job for women and a part-time occupation for men. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, is all too aware of this arrangement. A married mother of two, Sandberg insists that women will only succeed in the workplace once traditional gender roles are eradicated. "We still live with expectations around child rearing — even among very modern families and very modern couples — that the woman's default [is being] in charge, and if the women are default in charge, they will never succeed as much as men do in the workplace."
Are there any exceptions?
There's a reason why Marissa Mayer's position at the helm of Yahoo's turnaround has caught the attention of business experts the world over. As the fifth person to take the lead at the struggling company, Mayer is perched precariously on the edge of the "glass cliff" - the idea that companies in crisis will often place women in leadership roles precisely when the odds are stacked against them, increasing their chances of failure.
Throw in the responsibility of juggling family obligations on top of a heavy workload and it's no wonder that working mothers struggle to maintain their place at the top of the food chain. The preoccupation with family well-being is an ever present issue for women; men seem more capable of passing this responsibility off to someone else (primarily their significant other).
As such, a mere 14.5 percent of board seats in private companies and 10.3 percent in public companies on the FP500, Canada's list of the 500 largest private and public corporations, were held by women in 2011. What's more, almost 40 percent of private companies and close to 46 percent of public companies on the FP500 had no women at all on their boards.
A slow shift
While gender norms may be hard to break, they're certainly not set in stone. In recent years, statistics have shown that women are outperforming men in school and graduating in greater numbers than men from a wide range of university programs. Furthermore, women are increasingly becoming the primary breadwinners in their families. The gender division is evolving, but it's a slow evolution. Even when government supports exist to encourage men to do their share of child rearing, only 30 percent of new fathers take advantage of the offer.
If women like Marissa Mayer are to succeed, it won't be because of some exceptional power. It will take time, effort, patience and pride. Not to mention a husband who's willing to step down from the patriarchal role in order to change diapers, wash dishes, and wake up in the middle of the night.
Because behind every Supermom is a trusty male sidekick.
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