I read recently that the first woman was only allowed to run in the Boston Marathon in 1972. That was in my lifetime I thought! Sometimes we forget how recently it was that women were definitely second class citizens and how thankful we should be that times have changed. I have my own ‘thankfully times have changed’ story.
My oldest son was born in 1979. My due date was early February. I was legally entitled to sixteen weeks of paid maternity leave from my job as a grade one teacher. I had to go back to work at the beginning of June.
I requested my leave be extended till the end of June, just four extra weeks. I would take an added month of unpaid leave and return to the classroom in September. I argued it was not in my students’ best interest to change teachers two times during the year. It would be hard for me to do accurate end of year assessments for students I hadn’t taught in four months. The school division refused my request.
They said extending my leave would set a dangerous precedent. I’ll never forget my meeting with the two superintendents. In a very kind but patronizing tone they assured me once I saw that cute little baby of mine, I would never want to go back to work. They told me the only way I’d get an extra month of maternity leave was to resign. The superintendents assured me if I resigned, in the unlikely event I still wanted to go back to work after the baby was born, they would give me a job. To their credit they did. But I was forced to resign. I had to forfeit my insurance coverage and the nearly one hundred sick days I had accrued. I lost five months of contributions to my pension fund and I was given no written legal guarantee of a future job.
Returning to work the following year I asked to serve on the team negotiating salary and benefits with the school board. I wanted my school division to offer teachers up to year of maternity leave and retention of benefits during that time. Many other school divisions in our province had already instituted that kind of leave policy. The first year when our negotiations with the board got down to the wire, the teachers’ negotiating team, which was completely male except for me, voted for a higher salary rather than extended maternity benefits. The second year our request that teachers having babies could choose to take up to a twelve- month maternity leave was granted, and became a part of our contract package. I was very happy!
Other posts about women and change……..