It shocked and saddened me when I found out a few years ago how the US recognizes maternity leave. As I understand it, women are given up to six weeks DISABILITY leave when they give birth. Um, excuse me?! Disability? Women become disabled when they become mothers? That terminology is absolutely disgraceful. Maybe the psychosis that sets in when their little darling enters the terrible twos can be called a disability, but not when they experience the miracle that is creating another human being.

And hello?? SIX WEEKS? At six weeks postpartum with the little man I was still in breastfeeding hell and could only JUST sit down somewhat comfortably. That paints a pretty picture – a weepy, leaky woman sitting on an inflatable donut operating a loud, pulsating breast pump in the “privacy” of her office, cubicle, or the public washroom down the hall. Not exactly the prime candidate for success in the workplace. I know that women are “allowed” to take up to three months unpaid, but then they have to leave their new bundles of joy or choose not to return to their jobs. If you’re not independently wealthy and actually do need to work, it’s then the mad rush to find childcare, and suitable work clothes to fit over the weird and wonderful shape that is the post-baby body.

In Canada we definitely have it better, but it still doesn’t exactly encourage women to a) strive for career success or b) populate the planet. We are allowed to take up to one year’s leave. That is 17 weeks maternity and 35 weeks “parental” leave, which either parent can take. We receive 55% of our income from the Employment Insurance program, which is pretty good in comparison, I’ll admit.

Some companies provide “top up” of varying degrees to subsidize the income of the parent on leave, but these companies are the exception and not the rule. I work for a charity, so understandably they are unable to top up maternity leave. It’s tight, but we’re making it work for the opportunity to have me home for the year.

I return to work in four months. Mr. Awesome is self-employed so we need me to work full-time to provide a regular, guaranteed level of income and health benefits for the family. As I’ve mentioned before, I really love my job. I work for an organization dedicated to women’s health, and it stands to reason that they would be understanding to the female employee’s needs. If I have to leave the kidlets, I’m lucky to be going to work somewhere where I like the people and I believe in what we’re doing. As an employer they provide an environment that is very supportive and flexible to all employees, not just the women. They provide opportunities to work from home, work flexible schedules, take family time if necessary…basically work/life balance is a big priority.

The good news is, my employer is no longer as rare a commodity as I once thought they were. I thanked my lucky stars (and still do) to have found an organization that still allows me to be a mom without overlooking me for growth opportunities. But it turns out more and more companies are seeing the light.

Being a loving, attentive mom and being a driven career woman no longer need to be mutually exclusive. Companies are figuring out that if they want the right person in the role and that person happens to be a mother, they might have to make some accommodations to keep her.

A friend of mine just sent me the link to the 2010 Progressive Employers of Canada List.

From their website:

We would like to congratulate all the companies who have been recognized on the 2010 Progressive Employers of Canada List. They are among a select group of “mom-friendly” employers who are leading progressive change in the Canadian workplace for working parents and their families. To view the complete 2010 Progressive Employers of Canada list click here.

Connect Moms, momcafé and Lisa Martin International (founder of the Briefcase Moms Program) initiated the annual Progressive Employers of Canada List, after conducting a nationwide survey in November 2008 to determine what women, and moms in particular, who are traditionally underrepresented in the workforce, were looking for in a workplace of choice. The survey found that organizations need to offer a range of the following services or benefits to be considered supportive environments for working parents including:

* access to emergency childcare

* lactation rooms

* flex-time

* on-site daycare

* part-time or contract positions

* maternity and parental leave top-up

* health benefits

Well HALLELUJAH! This is a list of workplaces that GET IT. There are a few names on the list that I would expect given the nature of the work they do or type of organization, but there were also a few surprises. Big corporate names like Coast Capital Savings, DELL Canada and Kraft Canada jumped off the screen. Where I would have thought that these might have been male-dominated industries, these companies are providing opportunities for women to thrive.

Pretty darn cool if you ask me.

Are you a mom working away from your home? Does your company understand (and make allowances for) the demands you face as a parent?