The Motherhood Penalty

Will becoming a mother cost you a promotion? I know I’ve often wondered where I might have gotten to if I had opted to not become a mom. 

The Network of Executive Women (N.E.W.) just released the report, “Women 2020: The Future of Women’s Leadership in Consumer Products and Retail.” The first thing that caught my eye was, “Women who don’t have children get promoted more than women who do”– because the conventional thinking is mothers tend to lose focus and spend more time on parenting. 

According to N.E.W., “In U.S. retail, the motherhood penalty is not just hurting women, it’s hurting business. Women make or influence more than 90% of food purchases and comprise nearly half of the retail workforce, but they represent 18% of the retail industry’s executive officers and less than 2% of its CEOs.”



So on the continuing subject of “can women really have it all,” it appears there are roadblocks that have nothing to do with a mother’s drive and ambition. Researchers from Cornell University ran a controlled experiment, and found that mothers were penalized on a “host of measures, including perceived competence and starting salaries,” that had nothing to do with their job commitment or actual hours worked. In the study, mothers were also held to higher standards of punctuality and performance. I experienced it myself, and was once told I couldn’t take personal phone calls during the day.

Back in 2010, 70% of women in dual-income families said they carried the greater responsibility of routine childcare and were more typically the ones who had to take time off work when a child was sick or had an appointment. Most higher-level positions require extended hours and travel, which causes challenges to being both a mother and business woman. 

The N.E.W. study also revealed that women without children but of childbearing age earn 7% less than men. With motherhood, that number triples to a whopping 23% less pay than men. Add to it the bias on callbacks for jobs. Mothers were also penalized and received less than half the callbacks as women without children, but fathers were not penalized, and, instead, were rewarded. Also, the United States is the only Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development country without a national paid maternity or paternity leave policy. 

Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer received much criticism for setting up a nursery in her office, but corporate America is going to lose out on the value mothers bring to their organizations if change is not made. Hallmark is reinventing the workplace with telecommuting, flexible hours and providing resources like lactation rooms and refrigerators for nursing mothers and much more. 
General Mills has made increasing the number of women in high level and under-represented positions a mandate for 2020.

When forced to make a choice, mothers will opt for family over coveted leadership positions. Motherhood doesn’t change a woman’s intellect and ideas; penalizing motherhood in the end penalizes corporate America.

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