These Toronto women became their own bosses after employers’ lack of parental support

As women face the challenges of balancing a career and a family, entrepreneurism can offer solutions, these businesswomen say

Mayara Hidalgo shows jewelry to two female customers.
“I quit my job, I started to work for myself, for my own brand,” said Mayara Hidalgo, owner of My Precious jewelry. “Now I don't want to work for anyone.” (Marcia Dubsky/Toronto Observer) 

Mayara Hidalgo is a mother of two who immigrated to Toronto a couple of years ago from Brazil. She is trained as a civil engineer and project coordinator.

Hidalgo worked from home, Monday to Sunday, in the engineering industry as a project manager. The little time she had during her break hours, she planned to spend with her son. The mother expected she was going to be supported on this, but she said when she told her boss she needed time for her son during her break to help him with school, her boss didn’t listen to her and kept on calling during those hours. 

“I needed time with my son at least for one hour during my lunchtime to help him with English, but my boss was always calling. He never respected my time or anything, so I quit,” Hidalgo said.

‘Sorry, we can’t have people with young kids here’

Hidalgo said she also experienced discrimination in the workplace when she used to live in Brazil and work as an engineer. At one point, she was interviewing for a job as an engineer back home. After years of working hard and focusing on her career, the hiring interviewer changed his mind when he found out she was a mother.

“I remember in Brazil that I lost a job because my [potential] boss asked me if I had kids. I told him I had one and that he was one and a half. At first, he was happy with me, and after that, he said, ‘Sorry. We can’t have people with young kids here.'”

On top of not having support as a mother in the company she worked in Canada, Hidalgo said her boss would always yell at her and other employees.

She needed to leave and find something that could help her recover her mental health.

What do working moms face?

Society’s ideas of women working have been shifting throughout the centuries. According to research by the Pew Research Center, in 1987, 30 per cent of Americans believed women should return to their traditional roles in society, but 66 per cent disagreed with the statement. In 2009, 19 per cent agreed that women should return to traditional roles while 75 per cent disagreed.

In 2021, Moms at Work did a report on 1090 Canadian women who had taken maternity leave at some point within the last 10 years. According to the research, 95 per cent of them did not receive any formal support during their transition to maternity leave.

According to a study by Capterra. Over a third of mothers working in a company when they got pregnant, 35 per cent say they received no support after sharing news of their pregnancy with their employer.

How discrimination led to flexibility

Despite the discrimination Hidalgo said she encountered in Canada, she still found a way to fulfill herself and still help to support her family financially. 

“I started to work for myself, for my own brand,” Hidalgo said. “Now, I don’t want to work for anyone.”

Leigh Mitchell speaking to business women at a conference. (Courtesy Leigh Mitchell)

Leigh Mitchell is a career and business brand strategist and the founder of Bee Happy HR Co. and Women in Biz Network. She coaches women who struggle at their work and helps them open their own businesses or find jobs where they feel welcomed. 

Before helping thousands of women professionally, Mitchell said she also experienced no support at the beginning of her career when she told her boss she was pregnant. She then found an opportunity to follow a different path through helping other women to find a place where they belong. 

“I dedicated my whole life to my employer. I was ambitious. I waited until I was 30, to have my first child, and I was shocked at the lack of support I got when I was pregnant,” Mitchell said. 

The Canadian Human Rights Act (the Act) prohibits discrimination related to pregnancy, and it forbids any type of negative treatment, refusal to hire or promote termination of employment.

Then why is it still happening? 

According to Mitchell, what happens in human resources departments is that they often give women and mothers options for flexibility, or even to work remotely, but then don’t give the tools and the guidance to actually implement those, because in most cases, they don’t care about the person.

“It’s the mentality of ‘Go and figure it out,’” Mitchell said.

It’s a matter of finding an employer that understands that and will support you throughout the journey that you take, the coach said. 

“Employers need to look at the fact that the need for flexible work arrangements isn’t just when your kids are little, it’s needed throughout your lifetime,” Mitchell said.

A study exploring the Motherhood Penalty says mothers were offered a 7.9 per cent lower starting salary than non-mothers ($139,000 compared to $151,000).

How things are changing

The number of women starting their own businesses is increasing, and flexibility is one of the reasons why they decide to become an entrepreneur. 

There are some reasons why women start their own businesses. The first reason is that they want to follow their passion (48 per cent), second is financial independence for 43 per cent of women and 41 per cent is because they want to have flexibility. 

Mitchell sees business as a way for women to fulfill their passions but one of the things she advises is that they do their research and connect with other businesswomen first.

It’s challenging, emotionally, financially, and it requires you to change your skill set,” Mitchell said. “When I started my business, one of the reasons why I created the Women in Business Network was because I saw the need to offer mentorship to women so that they would go into the idea of opening a business with wide eyes and know what they were up against and share resources.”

Once she had a mentor, she then created a mentorship program with an advisory board for women who are thinking about starting a business. 

“I think they are misinformed and overwhelmed and shocked at how complicated it is,” Mitchell said.

Women in Biz Network featured on the #CBCSheMeansBiz.

Advice from a life coach

Kadine Cooper, mom of three, is a life coach who helps women ‘who find themselves stuck on the corporate ladder’ to create a professional brand that can guide them towards their purpose in their lives. 

Cooper believes that mothers at work have to start speaking about the discrimination they deal with and set up boundaries for their employees. 

“You can have both, you can have a successful career, and you can be an amazing mom,” Cooper said. “It’s about articulating what is important to you, having the competence and the courage to articulate that and to not be afraid.”

“I care more about my customers than just if they want to buy something. I care about how they’re dealing with their lives.” (Marcia Dubsky/Toronto Observer)

‘My Precious’: inspired by Hidalgo’s mother-in-law

Today, Hidalgo owns a Brazilian jewelry business called “My Precious” in Toronto, where she has customers from many different cultures. 

The inspiration for the store came from her mother-in-law, who was bringing jewelry from Brazil to sell to friends and family, said Hidalgo.

According to Hidalgo, she saw her mother-in-law with many bills to pay because she was bringing a lot of products from Brazil. Since she was on maternity leave, she started helping her, and took over the marketing of the company.

“When you have your company, you can make your schedule, and help people — not only people that you hire — but your customers,” Hidalgo said.  

“It was a process. It’s not like one day you wake up and think, ‘I’m gonna have my company because it’s hard,'” Hidalgo said. “Sometimes, you don’t have the money that you need, but you put in a little bit of patience, and things will work.”

Jewelry at the ‘My Precious’ store. (Marcia Dubsky/Toronto Observer).

‘We’re creating a space with equal opportunities’

Hidalgo wants to make her company a place where people — especially women — can feel welcomed and appreciated. Currently, her marketing team are all women.

According to the businesswoman, there are many workshops being provided by the government of Canada on how to start a small business.

“Go to their page for small business and explore the help they are giving for free,” Hidalgo said.

She said she values her customers’ feelings and wellbeing over and above the business they may do together.

“When my customers purchase something, I always ask myself,  ‘How do they feel about that?’ I think this is our difference. I care more about my customers than just if they want to buy something. I care about how they’re dealing with their lives.”

About this article

Posted: Dec 12 2023 9:00 am
Filed under: News