Motherhood can be a rewarding and fulfilling journey for many women who want to have families. But for those who want to do this and expand their careers, it can be penalising to add “mother” to their CVs. Those who want to further their careers, grow wealth, or further their education face targeted problems that make this difficult. This is known as the motherhood penalty.
Research shows that mothers face pay cuts. In addition to gender-based discrimination, mothers in the US faced wage penalties of up to 5% per child that they got. Mothers are also less likely to get promotions, get lower salaries, and are held to higher standards than their male parent counterparts.
A study found that hiring managers are less likely to hire women with children. They also get lower salaries than child-free women. Fathers don’t experience the same. Mothers were six times less likely to get recommended for jobs. They’re also overlooked for promotions.
Why does the motherhood penalty happen?
A main reason why mothers are subject to this discrimination is because employers assume that they are more likely to ask for time off for childcare reasons. Some women have experienced this after being asked about their marital status during the hiring process. If you have recently been married, employers assume you’ll likely be a new mother soon and therefore lowball you on salary.
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Mothers are also more likely to take on child-caring roles within the heteronormative nuclear family structure. Their careers are often stalled or impacted because they feel or are forced to assume the responsibility of child-rearing. Even if they wanted to pursue their careers, mothers also experience more shame from society for wanting a career instead of choosing to prioritise their husbands and children.
Since the pandemic, the work-from-home model enabled working mums to focus on work while still able to care for non-school-going children. But even then, many mothers were pushed out of the workforce. Before the pandemic, mothers had 55% labour participation rates, compared to fathers at 97.1%. Fathers were also more likely to work than non-fathers. In female-occupied sectors, 113 million women were driven out of work. After the pandemic, women’s access to work was lowered after domestic responsibilities increased. In addition, women experienced more domestic abuse.
How can this be changed for mothers?
The motherhood penalty impacts the capacity of wealth generation for working mothers. In addition, the lower pay and fewer chances of upward mobility within an organisation coupled with childcare costs mean that mothers don’t have extra income to grow wealth. The Global Wealth Equality Index report found that women have only 74% of the wealth that men have upon retirement.
There is no justification for the gendered pay and wealth gap. A study by Harvard revealed the extent of the bias against working mothers. Mothers are often rated with 10% lower competence when compared to their non-parent equals. Mothers are also considered less committed to their jobs than non-mothers and fathers. They are also recommended lower starting salaries compared to non-mothers and are also subjected to a stricter code of conduct.
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1. Additional employer support
Employers can erode the impact of the motherhood penalty. Many organisations fall short of offering support to mothers returning to work. Aside from maternity leave, companies do nothing else to provide a conducive work environment to returning mothers. Expanding support to include post-natal health needs, such as doctor’s appointments. This can also include paid time off for miscarriages or adoption loss. Adding layers of support for parents transitioning back into the workplace allows them to work and contribute better.
Some companies also provide daycare services or subsidize childcare costs for working parents. With a daycare on the premises of the work campus, working parents don’t need to worry about extra childcare costs for non-school-going children.
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2. Pay Transparency
Most people have a culture of failing to disclose their incomes. However, being open about your pay helps your peers realise if the company is underpaying others. In addition, it can show what the average pay is for a position and compare it with other salaries within the market. Many companies also need to have transparency policies when posting available positions.
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3. Better legislative policies
As of 2022 in Europe, 13 countries offer 100% equivalent pay for maternity leave for at least three months. 29 countries offer at least 2 months of paid time. Greece has the best maternity leave globally. Mothers get 43 weeks of maternity leave with full pay for the first 26 weeks and about 61% of the average pay for the remainder of the leave. This country has a model that can be emulated by other nations that want to abolish the motherhood penalty.
The International Labour Organisation says 119 countries meet the standard of a minimum of 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. 69 countries provide 14 weeks while 31 countries offer less than 12 weeks. In the Bahamas and Tanzania, women are allowed maternity leave once every three years. Nepal only allows maternity leave twice in a working life. Barbados, Egypt, Grenada, Jamaica, and Zimbabwe only allow three maternity leaves. Countries like Libya, Syria, and Somalia require a minimum of 6 months of labour before granting maternity leave. In Ireland and the United Kingdom, a mother must legally inform the employer or they could lose their maternity rights. The US is the only country in the world that has no guaranteed national maternity leave.
Countries need more secure maternity policies to offset the motherhood penalty. 29 countries in Africa and Asia have laws preventing the dismissal of workers during maternity leave for any reason. Mothers need cash and health benefits to afford maternity leave otherwise they would be forced to return to work before a full recovery.
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