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Mother’s Day 2018: Fight the Motherhood Wall & Mommy Penalty

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As we all celebrate Mother’s Day, let’s take a few minutes to understand what it can mean to be a working mother. Many mothers want to pursue careers and raise their children. They should not have to face discrimination or be penalized for wanting to do both and do them well. 
In reality the Maternal Wall and Mommy Penalty are unfairly pushing women out of the workforce. 

Biases, Stereotypes, and Myths

Women face many biases, stereotypes, and myths around motherhood. Some of the most common ones are:
  • “Mothers put in less effort at work than fathers and non-parents”. Not true. Most mothers I know, work harder because they know that any small infraction, that would earlier have been overlooked, will now be attributed to their pregnancy or motherhood
  • “Mothers can not be dedicated employees”. This belief stems from the myth that a mother can not focus 100% on her job when she needs to focus 100% on her role as a mother. Yet this belief does not seem to hold water when asking if men can focus on the job while being fathers, or can employees of any gender focus on their jobs when looking after an ailing partner or family member. 
  • “Working mothers are not “nurturing” mothers”. A clear bias based on thousands of years of women being seen as the “child bearers and nurturers”. Mothers are as much nurtures as fathers are. And working does not take away from anyone’s ability to nurture. Research has found that children of working mothers are more independent, flexible and creative. So, why penalize the working mom?  
  • Related to this is the myth that “Mothers can’t be tough task masters”. Underlying this belief is the belief that all mothers are more nurturers than anything else. It’s like women have a “nurturer” switch that gets flipped “on” permanently, as soon as a woman gets pregnant.
  • “I can’t manage work if a woman takes 6 months maternity leave. Lets not hire her”. The six-month maternity leave law has created issues. In the minds of many operating managers, men and women, this is six months of productivity lost with no help, support, or guidelines on contracting part time staff, or maintaining bench strength. So why hire someone who may proceed on leave.


The Mommy Penalty

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The impact of these biases, stereotypes and myths lead to what is called the Mommy Penalty.

  • Mothers are 79% less likely to be hired; 50% less likely to be promoted
  • Fathers get ~6% pay hike while mothers get ~4% reduction in pay
Add to this the fact that mothers are often resented for special treatment by non-mothers (men and women). Maternity leave may be seen and talked about as vacation. Flexible work options like work-from-home are discouraged it is taken to mean work-for-home. If flexible options are accessible by only mothers, it creates a divide between moms and non-moms. In the same way, companies that have creche facilities only for their women employees alienate the fathers, and mothers bear the brunt of this alienation.
The Motherhood Wall and Mommy Penalty often drives women to leave work.

What can you do?

  1. Just reading this blog post and recognizing that you may have a bias is a great first step. 
  2. Next time when you see a bias at play, raise your voice. Whether are home or at work.
  3. If your company has restrictive policies, advocate for change with the policy makers and not just HR.
  4. Read research on how motherhood positively impacts women’s ability to work and perform better. Quote data.
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