For women all over the world, the intersection of motherhood and employment poses significant challenges. In fact pregnancy discrimination is one of the major causes of gender inequality in the workplace. Consider these facts:
- 75% of women say they have experienced workplace discrimination after taking the maternity route.
- Mothers earn (on average) 14%-18% less than women without children.
- Working mothers are often overlooked for promotions and are assigned less lucrative projects and clients.
Clearly, motherhood penalty – the gradual decline in pay and position over a working mother’s career compared to women without children – is alive and well. It has continued to persist unchanged for over 30 years, despite women getting more education and gaining greater experience. Interestingly, having children doesn’t affect male employees’ salary negatively. It can, in fact, result in a fatherhood bonus as men are perceived as “more dependable” after becoming dads. A study shows men’s earnings increased by more than 6% when they had children while those of women decreased by 4% for each child they had. Why is there such a glaring gap in the way male and female employees with children are perceived?
getting to the root of the problem
There are many factors contributing to motherhood wage penalty. Firstly, several employers (33%) simply assume that women who decide to have children will put their careers on the back burner. Secondly, they (40% of employers) are afraid that women with children might frequently ask for less/easier work and flexible hours, resulting in higher operational costs. Thirdly, 44% of employers even believe that women should complete at least a year’s tenure with an organization before deciding to have children. These biases, though often not intentional, are deeply rooted in the societal and organizational culture.
Maternity leave takes women out of the workforce, while their male counterparts continue to work, earn, and climb the corporate ladder at an unaffected pace. Although paternity leave is becoming mainstream across the world, most fathers still take only about one day of leave for every month a typical mother is on leave. That’s a significant gap. If organizations are encouraging their male employees to avail themselves of paternity leaves, why are fathers still wary of taking time off from work to rear children?
For two reasons: firstly, caregiving has historically been perceived as a female responsibility. Secondly, most men fear that utilizing their full paternity leave will have the same effects on their pay and promotion that maternity leaves have on women. Between the ages of 25 and 45 – considered women’s prime child bearing years - the gender pay gap between men and women widens by a whopping 55%.
what can HR leaders do to break down the maternal wall?
Organizations, especially HR leaders, have a critical role to play when it comes to changing policies and mindsets around maternity leaves. Here are three ways of bringing down the barrier and promoting motherhood employment:
- Formalize a mandatory parental leave policy Make it compulsory for both parents to share child rearing duties, so that women can get back to work faster and both sexes can equally share the domestic and professional burden. Global furniture retailer IKEA offers a six-month paternity policy for both male and female employees, thereby encouraging fathers to take equal responsibility. Microsoft India has now extended its paternity leave to six weeks from two, with the leave allowance also covering fatherhood through adoption.
- Offer flexible hours without negative consequences For many women, flexibility to care for their children is rapidly becoming as important as their pay. However, 38% of women feel that taking advantage of flexibility programs and having the right work-life balance results in negative career consequences. The lack of flexible roles for senior professionals further aggravates the gender pay gap and compounds the challenge. According to research by PwC UK, three in five professional women in the UK return to lower-skilled or lower-paid jobs following their career breaks, experiencing an immediate drop in earnings. They end up earning only a third of what they deserve.
- Promote more women to the top and include them in important discussions Whether organizations develop more female leaders from within or hire top female talent for managerial positions, it sends a clear message that ‘women matter’ and that the company does not support motherhood penalty. In addition, steer clear of ‘manels’ or all-male panels and include more women in critical business discussions. Several business benefits follow from taking such steps. Companies with the greatest proportion of women on their c-suite earn 47% higher return on equity than those with no female executive members.
As companies increasingly accept that child bearing is an important part of their employees’ life and losing female talent can cost them dear, many are actively welcoming mothers back into their fold. From providing daycare facilities and letting babies sit on the desk to footing employees’ adoption bills, companies such as American Express, Patagonia, Google India and RMSI are getting innovative in wooing women workers back. For these forward-looking companies, the long-term benefits that come from a happy, engaged and diverse workforce clearly offset the short-term costs of paid leaves and benefits