The Motherhood Penalty

The Motherhood Penalty

There are many factors to look at when we consider the impact children can have on a womans career, so much so it has led to introduction of the term “Motherhood Penalty”. The Motherhood Penalty refers to the cost in real terms to a woman who is expecting or has had children. Research has shown that even before children arrive, the announcement of a pregnancy can negatively impact a womans career.

We are all familiar with the gender pay gap and more recently the gender pension gap has become common parlance, however – less spoken of is the gender promotion or prospect gap. And this is a reality for many working mothers.

Research has shown that working Mums are disadvantaged in their career progression, the quality of strategic assignments and from a salary perspective when compared to their colleagues. Both men and women (who are not mothers) are frequently given preferential treatment in the workplace.

This is a pretty significant finding. Due to the fact that biologically women are the child bearers! their careers are therefore non-linear when compared to men. They must take time out from their careers to have children and given our ‘societal’ bias for female carers, they are the parent who usually becomes the primary care giver. This proves unfair and fosters inequity for men also, as it is still not completely socially acceptable for Dads to take on all of the childcare or take extended periods of time out of the work place to spend with their children.

Due to the ‘ramping on and ramping off’ nature of womens careers, they then find themselves disadvantaged when it comes to promotional opportunity and in gaining meaningful assignments in the workplace. Consequently, they are not considered to have enough leadership experience when being considered for director level and board level roles. It is a cycle that continues.


What can companies do to address this?

In my view, there needs to be more acceptance of men taking a more involved role in the caring of their children, backed up through company policies and initiatives. Companies need to actively encourage more men to take up Parental and Paternity Leave entitlements without it negatively impacting their careers. In making it okay for Dads to do this, we create more awareness about the issues faced by women.

Companies need to ensure there is equality in their flexible working arrangements and entitlement policy. It is vital that part-time roles are structured with both genders in mind and not just for junior level female occupied roles.

Leaders need to lead by example, the phrase ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’– applies to all. Imagine the impact on a workplace where a male finance director took full parental leave or a female CEO took it…. without penalty? we would have very different workplaces.

Finally, ensure that your company has programmes to support women in the workplace and that senior level roles are equally available to all working mothers. Such appointments add a richness and diversity to every team that is immeasurable. Younger women within the organisation then have role models to aspire to and it will attract a rich talent pool to your organisation.

It is important for us all to remember that this isn’t a women only issue, it is an everybody issue and by involving everyone in the conversation, we can begin to address the Motherhood Penalty.


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