Focusing on…the ‘Motherhood Penalty’

What is the ‘motherhood penalty’ – and has it affected your career?

If you’re planning to have a child soon, we arm you with the information you may need to know in advance. Already have kids? You may be all too aware of what’s going on. Either way, read on for some invaluable insights…

What exactly is the motherhood penalty?

A term coined by sociologists, the motherhood penalty suggests that, in the workplace, working mothers experience, amongst other things, disadvantages in pay and perceived competence.

‘Researchers have studied the ‘motherhood wage gap’’, states this piece, published by the Henley Business School at the University of Reading. The wage gap compares, says its author – Dr Melissa Carr, Lecturer in International Human Resource Management – salaries between working mothers, women without children and working fathers.

The Motherhood Penalty and the Gender Pay Gap

‘It has been suggested that the motherhood penalty makes up 80% of the gender pay gap’, states Dr Melissa Carr, who says that a small gender pay gap exists between men and women in their 20s. This, she adds, begins to widen when women hit their 30s and start to have children.

It’s an issue that’s discussed widely (and often) in the media and, most likely, in parent-to-parent WhatsApp chats up and down the country.

Indeed, the discrimination experienced by mums can begin as early as pregnancy. It’s something avid campaigner, Joeli Brearley knows only too well, since founding the charity and campaign group, ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’ in 2015, after she herself faced discriminatory behaviour during pregnancy.

In January 2021, states her site, she took the Government to court for indirect sex discrimination, due to the way self-employed mothers were being financially penalised by the income support scheme.

She’s written extensively about the motherhood penalty online, and has penned a book on the very subject, too: ‘Pregnant Than Screwed: The Truth About the Motherhood Penalty and How to Fix It’.

Can becoming a parent actually harm your career?

This enlightening article by The Guardian would suggest so. It reports that the motherhood penalty has ‘driven 250,000 women out of jobs.

In a survey of 3,000 working parents of preschoolers, as conducted by The Fawcett Society (in partnership with Total Jobs), it was revealed that one in five working mothers had considered leaving their job because of the financial difficulties of balancing work and childcare.

One in 10 had handed in their notice because of this, states the piece, rising to 13% of single mothers.

‘A lack of flexible working arrangements and affordable childcare combined with “outdated and toxic attitudes around motherhood” were holding women back, said the Society’s chief executive, Jemima Olchawski.

Is it possible to defeat the motherhood penalty?

This isn’t an issue that’s exclusive to UK parents; in the US, parents are seemingly experiencing similar discrimination, with a psychologist in this Forbes piece offering advice that could well be applied to anyone concerned about the ‘motherhood penalty’.

Problem-solving sessions between couples could prove beneficial, is just some of the advice offered within the piece.

‘The benefits of collaborative efforts between partners to enhance relationship satisfaction are well-established’, says the article’s author, psychologist Mark Travers.

‘Approach these sessions as strategic brainstorming endeavors, where both of you work together to devise innovative solutions.’

Mark also suggests sharing household responsibilities, highlighting that this can ‘create a supportive environment that enables your spouse to pursue her career goals with greater focus, knowing that she has your unwavering support at home’.

Lastly, says Mark, it’s vital to keep advocating for workplace equality. He urges: ‘Speak out against discriminatory practices and champion initiatives like flexible work arrangements, parental leave policies and equal pay.’

Your Rights in the Workplace

While campaigners like Joeli Brearley continue to take huge strides for women’s rights, it’s clear there’s still a long way to go. Want to know your own rights in the workplace? Head to the Pregnant Then Screwed site to understand more about everything from loss of pay, navigating childcare and school closures, to redundancies and more.

Do you feel you’ve been affected by the so-called motherhood penalty? Let us know by joining the conversation over on Facebook.

Plus, if you’re keen to get ahead and put aside some extra funds before growing your family, view our range of financial products* here on our site. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with our friendly team, too, if you have any questions at all.

Until next time…

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