Kent Kaufield on paternity leave: the uncommon path
10 May 2019
Eighteen years ago, having a male business executive step back from his full-time position to raise a little one was rare. Parental leave in Canada was six months long, and it was most commonly used by a mother. Eighteen years ago, there were also different societal norms – women often took on the role of caregiver and either took leaves from work or stayed home indefinitely, and the expectation of income-earning was often placed on men.
Kent Kaufield and his wife Jennifer, without feeling that they were doing anything too ground-breaking, didn’t feel this societal mindset would work for them. When Jennifer was pregnant with their first child, they had open discussions and ideas about how they would structure their family to balance their thriving professional pursuits with their commitments to parenthood.
The couple had met in their early days at Ernst & Young LLP (now EY) and Kent stayed on with the company while Jennifer took a position with a quickly-growing technology company. As the Vice President of Finance, she had valuable experience in the areas of finance, fundraising and business growth, so her capacity to leave work for a stretch to be with a baby was limited. Kent and Jennifer did the very rare for these times: Jennifer went on maternity leave for three months and then tagged off with Kent who stayed home for another three.
“We didn’t want a stranger to be taking care of our baby and Jennifer wanted to participate in the growth at Catena Technologies,” says Kent Kaufield, Managing Partner, Energy and Alberta at EY Canada. “So, we found what worked – a split parental leave. We felt really happy with the decision, so we kind of shrugged our shoulders to anyone who seemed negative towards it.”
Kent found EY to be supportive of his choice; he acknowledges he was lucky to be in a position where he felt no fear or anxiety about what the leave might mean for his career.
Many parents will relate to Kent’s experience shifting from full-time executive to full-time Dad: “I enjoyed the time, but it was a transition. It’s amazing just looking at the world through a naïve, new set of eyes. I loved the focused time together and learned to be more anchored to my children and my spouse.”
While on parental leave, Kent did indeed join Mom and Baby classes – he was the only father there, but enjoyed it immensely and relied on the network available there. He was spending precious time with his first-born, Michael, and participating in parenting in new ways.
The experience of having both parents in one household act as the primary caregiver at different times had some unexpected benefits. “Jennifer and I learned many of the same lessons and it was easy to be thoughtful of what the other was going through because we really understood what it was like to be home and what it was like to be away,” says Kent.
As Kent looks back at the time he spent on that first parental leave, he misses the tender moments with Michael. He misses the alone time he spent with his son, the many ups and downs, and most importantly, bonding together. It was an experience he realizes was enhanced by his ability to take a leave from work to really be present.
Although Kent learned many invaluable life lessons at home, his parental leave made his life at work a completely different experience; one he was not expecting, but welcomed with open arms.
“My decision to go on parental leave was essentially good for my career. There was certainly some initial negativity but as time goes by and things progress, so has the attitude towards parents prioritizing families in new ways. Eighteen years later, I still get asked about my experience and commended for doing things outside the norm,” says Kent.
The decision he made almost 20 years ago was fully supported by his employer, but continues to progress how it assists parents to this very day.
“EY has a flexible parent package to open up options that people may not have had back in the day. But it’s not just HR policy, it’s a cultural understanding that I think EY has always been on the forefront of. I know, for example, if I suggest to an employee on my team to go home to be with a little one, I don’t need to check in with anyone – that support is just inherently in place.”
Kent feels the shift towards accepting new family structures is a trend with employers and generally they are being more thoughtful about their offerings to employees. “I think importantly there is just more tolerance and open discussion of different options. What we continue to see is change to the engrained culture that employees are not just employees – they may also be parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses and more.”
Jennifer and Kent were trailblazers in their own right. They made the decision to split up parental leaves with their first and other children to accommodate the needs of their family. Their family has grown to include three now teenage boys (Michael 18, Thomas 16 and Charlie 13). Kent notes his boys were raised without gender labels for traditional roles and chores.
The boys have no expectations of men performing some tasks while women perform others – rather, they are encouraged to know their own strengths and weaknesses. “All three boys are excellent cooks and they enjoy it. Cutting the grass, who cooks and cleans, who does the plumbing – we don’t have labels on who does what. My wife is much handier than I am so she takes over things that require that,” says Kent. They believe it’s sent a message that what’s more important than sticking to expectations is working together to leverage abilities and preferences.
The society Kent and Jennifer helped set in motion is on the horizon. There are shifts in the workplace and in cultural expectations that are enabling parents to work together to find the right solutions and structure for their families. “I’m careful not to put too much power in labels,” adds Kent. “Things have changed, people’s awareness of what’s possible is opening up in good ways, and families just need to choose what works for them.”
Written by Natasha Carr
Blog post submitted by Chamber member Kids & Company