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How to Avoid the 'Motherhood Penalty' and Recoup Income

There is no denying the gender pay gap between men and women continues to exist, but when it comes to mothers, the hit to their income is even greater.


According to a recent report by the American Sociological Review, women face a “motherhood penalty” of 4 percent of income for each child they have. If women are highly skilled and highly paid, that percentage climbs; for high-earning moms, the penalty is 10 percent per child. Women who are progressing in their careers at a rapid rate tend to quickly increase their salary, so taking any kind of leave to spend time raising kids is more of a compromise in the long run.

Meanwhile, men enjoy an income boost when they have children. According to Bloomberg, which analyzed the report, men “get a fatherhood bonus, an increase of more than 6 percent in earnings for every child they have. To employers, being a dad signals stability and commitment.”

Bloomberg reports that even at some workplaces that do offer flexibility, “women have reported penalties for taking advantage of the options, such as loss of responsibility or longer hours than promised […] Once back in the office full time, working moms face various stereotypes. Research has found that moms get competency ratings 10 percent lower than other women. These perceptions affect earnings.”

How Can We Effect Change

Research has indicated that moms – particularly those with two or more kids — are actually more productive workers. So how can we reverse the “motherhood penalty” — or at least eliminate it — so that mothers are appropriately compensated for their contributions when they return to work

Fairygodboss is working to do just that. The site — which provides a platform for women to anonymously review where they work, specifically on gender issues — is building an infrastructure of transparency and support, which is an important step in mitigating the “motherhood penalty,” among other obstacles that women face in the workplace.

By crowdsourcing data that companies often avoid sharing publicly, Fairygodboss allows job seekers to find the answers to questions that are hard to ask during interviews, such as what a company’s maternity leave policies are, how well women are paid, whether companies tend to promote women to leadership positions, and whether they allow for good work-life balance.

Women who worry about facing a “motherhood penalty” can check out what others have to say about various companies’ policies. For example, one Fairygodboss user who works at Accenture, which is rated highly among its female employees, indicated that the company is a good fit for ambitious women who also prioritize their family. She wrote, “It’s a great place to work, at all levels! You make your own path here, so there is plenty of room to climb the corporate ladder if that is your priority, but if family is your priority then it is also a very flexible workplace and the culture is very supportive of it.”

Women seeking advice can also browse the articles we publish that provide advice on a variety of work-related issues, and they can post questions on Fairygodboss’s discussion boards, where others in the community can weigh in. One Fairygodboss user felt judged by her boss after revealing to him that she was pregnant, and she turned to our discussion boards for insight. “Ever since I told my boss I’m pregnant, he’s been giving me the cold shoulder,” she wrote. “What do I do Should I talk to HR” Others chimed in to offer advice based on their own experiences.

While much of our work at Fairygodboss helps working women directly, we also strive to inspire companies to effect change at an institutional level. We know that some are already on the right track, whether they’re proactively reviewing their own compensation policies and establishing measures to fix any inequalities they find, or by making efforts to avoid any biases that would undermine a woman’s value.

By continuing to facilitate an open dialogue surrounding these issues, Fairygodboss is helping to thwart the “motherhood penalty” — and we hope that one day, working mothers across all industries will be appropriately rewarded for their productivity when they return to work.

Fairygodboss is a career and job community for women, by women. Read more @ Fairygodboss.com

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