Family plays
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The shift from being a working professional to a parent on leave — taking care of newborn twins — was jarring for Jeff Reznik, director, security advisory with IGM Financial Inc.

“The sudden change from my work role to fatherhood in less than a day was a challenge I was not expecting. Being a parent was a completely new skillset for me,” he said. “Although I knew it was coming for many months, that experience was incomparable to anything else in my life.”

But the fact his employer and his team supported his decision to take parental leave made that transition “much less painful for everyone,” he said. IGM also topped up his employment insurance benefits.

“I didn’t have to worry about income on top of everything else at home,” he said.

IGM Financial is one of nearly two dozen Canadian financial firms to have signed a pledge designed to destigmatize parental leave.

The Parental Leave Pledge, developed by Women in Capital Markets (WCM), commits employers to providing paid leave to all parents and ensuring it doesn’t impact career progression, among other items. The 23 signatories include IGM, Canaccord Genuity Group Inc., Manulife Financial Corp. and Raymond James Ltd.

Jake Lawrence, CEO and group head of global banking and markets at Scotiabank, said the bank signed on because the pledge is good for the industry and society as a whole.

“We want to really increase and improve the effort we put toward removing the stigma for birth and non-birthing parents who take leave,” he said.

The stigma around taking leave is strong in the financial sector, especially for men, Lawrence added. Fewer than 50% of fathers in all industries take paternity or parental leave, according to 2021 data from Statistics Canada.

He talked about his own experience as a father of two boys who didn’t take time off when they were born more than a decade ago.

“I wish I was around more,” he said. While Scotiabank has policies and programs in place to support new parents, leaders need to be more visible and talk openly about it to drive usage, he added.

The bank has rolled out a parental advisory program that pairs senior leaders, who are parents, with staff returning from leave. The goal is to offer coaching, mentoring and sponsorship as parents transition back to work.

“I also want to encourage people who do take leave, to the extent they’re comfortable, to talk about their experience,” Lawrence said.

Advisors may be reluctant to step away from their books, primarily because it’s such a relationship-based business. But Lawrence said taking a leave can work to the advantage of an advisor in building even stronger bonds with clients.

“It’s a very human thing to become a parent, it’s very easy for people to relate to,” he said. He often talks about the challenges of parenting with clients and those types of real conversations help cement relationships.

Lara Zink, president and CEO of WCM, said one of the key components of the pledge is raising awareness of the leave benefits available to parents from their employer.

“It really is quite shocking. Sometimes, when you ask individuals — and not just men, but sometimes women — there’s not a high level of awareness of what benefit is even available to them,” she said.

And benefits like this can have a big impact when it comes to attracting and retaining professionals, said Zink.

“Individuals are assessing and comparing these policies before they make employment decisions,” she said. “Men are taking on more care roles. So if you want to attract men, parental leave can help recruitment. There are also huge retention benefits for employers looking to retain women. If they see men enthusiastically embrace leave opportunities, women are less likely to feel stigma around leave.”

Zink is encouraged by the behaviour of young workers, as generation Z seems more inclined to take leave than new parents did even a decade ago. She likes to look at a person’s entire career arc — which can last three or four decades — to put the time off into perspective.

“Let’s say you have three kids, and you choose to take two months off with every kid — and any amount of time off is good, because we’re taking baby steps here — that’s six months cumulatively,” she said. “That’s not even a rounding error in the context of your entire career.”

WCM plans to collect data from the signatories, over a couple of years, to measure impact.