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Surprise! Life Is Still Harder for Working Moms

Topics: Data & Research
working moms
Image Credit: mrhayata/Flickr

Being a working parent is hard, but working moms are still in a tougher spot than working dads. While women do more housework than men, generally speaking, they also earn less and are more likely to leave the workforce. Working mothers must contend with false perceptions about their productivity and commitment, while experiencing more limited opportunities for advancement.

  1. Parenthood hurts moms’ careers but not dads’.

Despite the fact that 70 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 are in the labor force (that figure is up from 47.4 percent in 1975), the bias toward them still persists.

“Disparities in pay, expectations, and treatment of mothers still stem from inaccurate assumptions about what they accomplish in the workplace,” Julian Lute, from Great Place to Work, which recently released a report on the best workplaces for parents in 2016, told Fortune. “The fact is, women with children are just as productive as dads. Even if their needs differ somewhat, it’s up to employers to accommodate that and ensure the mothers on their teams can contribute at their full potential.”

The old idea that women won’t work as hard when they’re mothers is even more damaging when you consider how fathers are perceived. Men are actually more likely to be hired once they become fathers, and they earn more too. Research has found that women earn about 4 percent less with every child they have, while men earn about 6 percent more after becoming dads.

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“Employers read fathers as more stable and committed to their work; they have a family to provide for, so they’re less likely to be flaky,” Michelle Budig, a sociology professor from the University of Massachusetts who has been studying the parenthood pay gap told The New York Times. “That is the opposite of how parenthood by women is interpreted by employers. The conventional story is they work less and they’re more distractible when on the job.”

  1. The gender pay gap persists, and so does the opportunity gap.

Women earn less than men, no matter how you look at the data. This gap widens as women advance in their careers. At least in part, this is due to false perceptions about working women (especially mothers).

“Men are 85 percent more likely than women to be VPs or C-Suite Execs by mid-career, and 171 percent more likely to hold those positions late in their career,” according to PayScale’s report, Inside the Gender Pay Gap. “Conversely, by the time they reach age 60, more than 60 percent of women are still working in individual contributor roles, but less than 45 percent of men are still in this type of job.”

  1. Not everyone believes there is a problem, which delays progress.

The facts are the facts. There is a difference between being in the working world as a mother versus as a father. But, not everyone is aware of that reality. According to the latest Women in the Workplace report from Lean In, 54 percent of men feel that “the best opportunities go to the most deserving employees,” whereas only 44 percent of women agree. Also, only 38 percent of men say that their “senior leaders communicate the importance of gender diversity.” A mere 24 percent of women feel the same. It’s facts like these that cause women to be twice as likely to report that parenthood makes it more difficult to grow in their careers than men.

Perhaps this lack of understanding helps to further the chore and care gaps at home, which hurts women professionally and lays the groundwork for future generations to continue on the path. Even when women are the breadwinners, they still do almost all of the housework. In fact, around the world, girls start doing more chores than boys from a very young age. And, there is even an allowance gap — girls earn less for chores than boys, and they spend more time on them too.

We’re going to have a do a tremendous amount of work as a society in order to reverse some of the trends that penalize working moms. The first step though, is developing an honest understanding of the problem itself and spreading that knowledge throughout our ranks. In order to solve a problem, we first have to know it exists. Then we need to talk about it, openly and honestly and often, with others.

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