The high monetary costs of having children are well known to working parents and the employers looking to support them. According to US Census data, child care costs skyrocketed by more than 50 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 1985 and 2011. These costs have been blamed for holding women back in the workforce by making it challenging for couples to start families without scaling back one of their careers: in the case of heterosexual couples, that usually means the woman’s, as she typically earns less money than her male partner.
Yet a study recently highlighted in the Wall Street Journal suggests that the total costs of motherhood are difficult for many working women to anticipate. “The Mommy Effect: Do Women Anticipate the Employment Effects of Motherhood?” by economists Jessica Pan, Ilyana Kuziemko, Jenny Shen, and Ebonya Washington finds that some women in their childbearing years have “misplaced optimism” about their employment prospects after becoming mothers due to other hard-to-quantify costs associated with having children. As the Journal noted, a recent US government survey found that 64 percent of women with bachelor’s degrees and children under the age of six agreed that “being a parent is harder than I thought it would be”; fewer than 40 percent of similarly situated men agreed.
Beyond the financial costs are the time and emotional “costs” associated with having children that are harder to plan for.
A member of Parliament in the UK is pushing for employers to be more proactive in clarifying their parental leave policies to their current and prospective employees, introducing a bill that would require many organizations to publish their policies online, the BBC reported on Wednesday:
Jo Swinson, a Lib Dem MP, said this was “a simple and practically effortless change” that would improve transparency and encourage more competition on pay. It would help firms “better attract and retain talent”, she added. Human resources trade body the CIPD said publication could help tackle discrimination.
Ms Swinson said more than 54,000 women a year lose their jobs because of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, while fathers were worried about taking shared parental leave because of the negative effect on their careers. … The MP has tabled a bill in the Commons that would require firms with more than 250 employees to publish those policies. Prospective employees would have a clearer idea of parental leave policies without having to ask at interview, she said.
In arguing for her bill, Swinson noted that “the very act of asking” about parental leave “suggests to the employer that the candidate may be considering having a child.” A recent survey of UK employers found that most expected women candidates to disclose if they were pregnant or planning to become pregnant, and many managers would decline to hire a woman of childbearing age on that basis. Publishing these policies would enable candidates and employees to find out about them without having to reveal their intent to have children to a manager who might penalize them for it.
There is really no good reason for employers not to advertise their parental leave policies, as these and other family benefits are highly attractive to many candidates—particularly, but by no means exclusively, women. Our research at CEB, now Gartner, has found that the availability of parental leave has a significant positive impact on employees’ perceptions of their overall benefits package. A lack of family-friendly policies is often a key factor in driving women out of the workforce. (CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can view our data on parental leave and rewards perceptions here.)
The motherhood penalty refers to the negative impact becoming a mother has on the lifetime earnings of working women compared to their male colleagues. Whereas men who become fathers can actually see their earnings increase relative to their childless peers, mothers often see theirs stagnate or decline and never recover, contributing significantly to the earnings gap and wealth gap between men and women.
Responding to a recent sponsored study by Merrill Lynch and Bank of America on financial wellness issues specific to working women, Washington Examiner columnist Hadley Heath Manning objects to calling the motherhood penalty a “penalty,” arguing that it’s more of a tradeoff for women who just want to spend more time raising their children:
Among all demographic groups, who makes the most money? Married fathers. This isn’t because society values them more, but because they often make sacrifices to try to earn more to support their families. And who shares household earnings and the associated wealth accumulation with married fathers? Married mothers, of course. The term “motherhood penalty” fails to capture this. Married motherhood comes with great benefits, both financial and non-financial.
The reality is that mothers are paid less than non-mothers (and accumulate less wealth as a result) not because employers or “society” penalize us, but because, on aggregate, mothers make trade-offs that result in less money.
Manning’s argument is one we often hear from gender pay gap skeptics and critics of gender equality initiatives in the workplace. More importantly, it’s just plain wrong. Nobody expects women who freely choose to take multi-year career breaks to earn as much in their lifetimes as those who don’t.
The problem is that these choices are not always made freely, and when men and women make the same choices, the outcomes are very different.
In a historic change, the US Senate voted last week to allow members to bring their babies into the chamber. The new rule was prompted by the birth of Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth’s second daughter on April 9. Duckworth, the first sitting senator to give birth, said the vote would “bring the Senate into the 21st century,” making the historically male-dominated chamber a more welcoming workplace for women and new parents, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
No Senators objected to the rule change, but effecting it still took some convincing. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar told the AP that she had spent nearly two months “privately reassuring Republicans and Democrats that the new rule would not mean diaper-changing or nursing in the Senate chamber.” Quartz’s Heather Timmons followed up with Klobuchar about the questions she had fielded from her colleagues:
Will there be an infant dress code?
“No, we’re not going to have a dress code for the baby,” Klobuchar said. While that sounds off the wall, what women wear in the Senate in particular has been closely policed—it was not until the early 1990s that pant suits were allowed.
Can’t Duckworth just vote from the Senate cloak room, while holding her baby?
Both Republicans and Democrats have a room, originally quite literally a room for cloaks, that is outside the Senate chamber, where a small handful of aides sit to keep senators informed of voting. The chamber was built in 1859, and the cloakroom is difficult to access from the outside for Duckworth, who lost both her legs when she served in the Iraq war. “She can’t get from there to the floor without a wheelchair,” Klobuchar said, and she has to go across the floor to get into it anyway.
Duckworth and Klobuchar are both Democrats, but support for the rule change came from both male and female Senators across party lines. Although some of the men in the chamber expressed concerns about babies violating the Senate’s decorum, most were on board. “Why would I object to it? We have plenty of babies on the floor,” Florida Senator Marco Rubio joked.
The UK’s Employment Appeal Tribunal has overturned a controversial ruling from a lower court that a new father whose employer had declined to enhance his statutory pay while using shared parental leave had engaged in sex discrimination, Ashleigh Wight reports at Personnel Today:
Last year, the employment tribunal ruled that it was direct sex discrimination to allow new father Mr Ali only two weeks’ leave on full pay, when female staff were allowed to take 14 weeks’ maternity leave on their full salary. …
The EAT found the employment tribunal had erroneously interpreted that Mr Ali’s circumstances were comparable to those of a woman who had recently given birth as both had leave to care for their child. The EAT said the purpose of maternity pay and leave is to recognise the “health and wellbeing of a woman in pregnancy, confinement and after recent childbirth”.
Mr. Ali, a former Telefónica employee, had transferred to a job at Capita but remained covered by his former employer’s policies, which offered 14 weeks of enhanced maternity pay to mothers on leave but only two weeks’ leave at full pay to new fathers. His wife had returned to work not long after giving birth, based on medical advice that doing so might help alleviate her postpartum depression, leaving Mr. Ali to care for the baby. When he was told that he was only entitled to the statutory rate prescribed in the UK Shared Parental Leave law for his paternity leave beyond the first two weeks, he sued, and a tribunal ruled in his favor last June.
The nonprofit organization Working Families, which advocates for parental leave and other work-life balance benefits for UK workers, cheered the appeals tribunal’s ruling, saying that a final ruling in the plaintiff’s favor would have resulted in employers abandoning enhanced parental pay for mothers rather than extending it to fathers as well, Wight adds:
A recent survey from Indeed, reported last week at Recode, finds that despite the sector’s relatively generous parental leave policies, many women in the US tech industry are afraid to take full advantage of those benefits out of concern for their jobs or future careers, or due to overt pressure from their managers and coworkers:
Survey participants gave different reasons for why they felt pressured to return early:
- 34 percent said they were directly pressured by colleagues or managers.
- 32 percent feared losing their jobs.
- 38 percent cited a fear of losing credibility or value. …
“Frankly, women are afraid they’ll lose their jobs. We’re worried we’ll be forgotten while we’re gone. Out of sight, out of mind,” said Kim Williams, director of experience design at Indeed, in an email to Recode. “Things move so fast in tech, projects move forward and you wonder: Once the team gets used to working without you, will they decide they no longer need you?”
Previous surveys of women in tech have turned up similar findings, as well as that women are widely subjected to questions about their family lives in job interviews and that women are held back from promotions based on misguided expectations by their employers that they will eventually leave the workforce to start a family. These are by no means exclusive to the US tech sector: A recent survey of UK employers, for example, found that a majority believed that a woman should have to disclose whether she is pregnant to a prospective employer, while many said they believed mothers to be less interested in career advancement than their peers.
Carlos G. Lopez/Shutterstock
A recent survey by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 59 percent of employers believe a woman should have to disclose whether she is pregnant to her prospective employer while being considered for a position, while 46 percent believe it is reasonable to ask if they have young children and 44 percent said women should work for an organization for at least a year before deciding to have children, Personnel Today’s Rob Moss reported last week:
The EHRC research, conducted in autumn 2017 by YouGov, also found that:
- 44% of employers believe that women who have had more than one pregnancy while in the same job can be a “burden” to their team
- 41% say that pregnancy in the workplace puts “an unnecessary cost burden” on the workplace
- 40% of employers claim to have seen at least one pregnant woman in their workplace “take advantage” of their pregnancy
- 32% believe women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are “generally less interested in career progression” than other employees.
Surprisingly, most HR decision makers share some of the sentiment of the wider survey sample.
These assumptions and sentiments are exactly the reason why women shouldn’t have to disclose if they are pregnant in an interview or at any point during recruitment. I understand the desire to control for all factors in recruiting, but if sentiments such as these lead to fewer women being hired, than this is perpetuating the problem of discrimination against pregnant women and mothers, based on the erroneous assumption that hiring mothers will have a negative impact on business.