In the same way that the realities of motherhood are impossible to predict (expect the unexpected), nothing can fully prepare a woman for the unimaginable career consequences of becoming a caretaker.
In 2022, the motherhood penalty is alive and thriving.
Mothers are perceived to be 12.1 percentage points less committed to their jobs than non-mothers, and beyond the implications of the social stigma, they’re financially punished for each child they have, too. Women face a 4 percent earning drop in hourly wages per child, whereas men receive a 6% wage increase for having children.
Among full-time, year-round workers in 2020, moms were typically paid 74 cents for every dollar paid to fathers according to the National Women’s Law Center’s (NWLC) analysis of U.S. Census data, with women of color typically being paid even less.
For perspective, the pay gap was robbing moms of approximately $17,000 per year throughout the pandemic. On average, women employed in the United States lose a combined total of nearly $1.6 trillion every year due to the wage gap. These lost wages mean women and their families have less money to support themselves, save and invest for the future, and spend on goods and services. Women, their families, businesses, and the economy suffer as a result.
With September 8 marking Mom’s Equal Pay Day, MBAchic hopes to shed light on the continued importance of having hard conversations and following up with real change. Why? Because it’s not a stretch to feel like talk is cheap when it comes to moms (still) making less.
Breadwinner moms are feeling the pain of the pay gap, and while the problem didn’t start with the pandemic, it certainly didn’t help.
In a considerable number of families with children, mothers (whether single or partnered) are now the primary breadwinner. More than 40 percent of American mothers solely or primarily support their minor children through their own earnings in any given year.
Yet still, the conversation about gender parity drags on, with progress backsliding thanks to persistent inequity coupled with the ongoing effects of the pandemic – which means future generations lose out.
First thing’s first – the U.S. needs to treat the disease of systemic inequity rather than the pay gap symptom, according to Katica Roy, gender economist, speaker, author, and CEO of Denver-based Pipeline Equity.
“Our future entrepreneurs, policymakers, and essential workers who live in households headed by breadwinner moms are the collateral damage of systemic inequity,” says Roy. “Let’s recognize that a mother’s job is not just for purses and shoes. Working isn’t an option for the 16 million breadwinner moms in the US who support 28 million children.”
It will take another 132 years to close the global gender gap according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022. Women of color often face increased barriers in opportunity as gender and racial biases can intermix to create obstacles to hiring, raises, referrals, promotions, and leadership.
Transparency in talk equates to pay gap progress, but real change is the solution.
In recent years, a growing number of female founders have been open about the kinds of things potential investors say to them—things like, “You’ve clearly got what founders are made of, but I hope you’re not planning to get pregnant anytime soon,” as one reportedly told Melissa Hanna, the CEO of a maternity healthcare company.
In terms of investing in women, Beth Bengtson, founder and CEO of Working for Women — an organization that works at the intersection of business and social change with a vision for all women to achieve economic independence — points out that while evidence shows that investing in women benefits all humanity, capital isn’t flowing there. Charitable giving to women’s and girls’ organizations represents a small share—1.9%—of overall annual charitable giving according to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute.
“Society doesn’t benefit if we don’t fix this — it’s everybody’s issue, not only a women’s issue,” says Bengtson. “When a woman’s individual financial security improves, research shows that it creates a ripple effect that flows into businesses, industries, communities and entire economies.”
The pandemic highlighted the discrimination working moms are facing and forced many out of the workforce. But the biggest losers of all are still single moms and the next generation that they’re raising.
In the United States, 46% of working women are in jobs with median earnings of $10.93 per hour according to a Brookings Institute analysis.
“The single quickest path to poverty in the United States is being a single mom,” suggests Bengston.
“Moms don’t just raise girls, they raise all genders, and if we’re not investing and making sure that families are getting the access to the capital on an equal basis, then we’re actually harming the future of our society,” she adds.
It’s not up to individual moms to fix the pay gap problem. It’s the system that’s broken.
While a lot of pay gap conversation gravitates towards the importance of strengthening negotiating skills, it’s important to not blur the lines between why women are making less and what actions need to be taken to fix the issue.
Statistically speaking, moms are the most productive employees over the course of their careers. Roy points out that valuing them as committed members of the workforce is the first step on a long road to equitable treatment and likens closing the gender pay gap to chasing a moving target.
“You can close the pay gap once, but then every talent decision made after that risks re-opening the gap,” says Roy.
Corporations hold the responsibility of constantly assessing and reexamining performance review parameters and increasing pay transparency to prevent current and future salary disparities.
“So you’ve really got to look at how you’re evaluating employees’ performance, making sure that that equality is there because you can level it out across the company, but if you haven’t changed those evaluations and how you’re doing it, it’ll go out of balance again, because in a lot of cases, we are still evaluating by a very traditional, more of a patriarchal style of working,” says Bengtson.
The problem (and the conversation) surrounding mothers and fair pay is larger than the childcare crisis.
Since the start of the pandemic, Roy says Corporate America has been pointing fingers at the childcare dilemma as a major factor influencing women’s disappearance from the labor force. While it’s easy to blame childcare infrastructure as the reason behind women’s exodus out of the paid labor force, she argues that such thinking is short-sighted.
“If we lived in a society where pay equity was the standard,” suggests Roy, “would women have been the ones to leave the workforce when push came to shove? Yes, we need childcare infrastructure and paid leave. We also need to create workplaces with equity of opportunity and equity of pay for moms.”
Bengtson points out that while accessible childcare is a critical element of a larger issue, the conversation about the pay gap moms experience isn’t even equitable amongst women.
“Depending on what your family structure is, you have more resources to fill the gap on some of these issues, so that pay gap just gets worse and worse as you think through the segments of women,” says Bengtson. “If you’re on the higher end of the food chain, you can figure that out and how to work in the workforce. But if you’re on the lower end of the food chain, you can’t, and that’s impacting our society in the long run.”
What actionable steps can businesses take on this Mom’s Equal Pay Day to do better?
In the quest to ensure moms have meaningful employment, corporations can’t ask moms to go back to workplaces that don’t value them equitably. Particularly in the case of automation, Roy points out that companies can’t ask moms to go back to jobs that disappeared during the pandemic or that will disappear soon. Based on her research, there are three strategic levers she says America can pull to start actively showing up for moms.
“Implement a national pay equity law, use advanced tech to root out bias throughout the entire employee lifecycle, and equitably skill people for the 4th Industrial Revolution,” suggests Roy.
“Let’s recognize that moms don’t need to change their behavior and/or expectations to succeed at work—the system needs to change.”
Photo by Charles Deluvio
About the author
Torri is a mom, creative writer, communications specialist, and professional journalist. She has nearly a decade of experience working in print and TV newsrooms as an on-air reporter and anchor independently researching, writing, interviewing, filming, and editing her own content. Whether she is interviewing the Speaker of the House about hot button issues, or a small student group about a local grassroots campaign, her commitment and focus remain the same: to bring the story she is telling to life. As an amateur watercolorist, she is passionate about the arts, promoting women's empowerment through writing, and investing time in her family.
She lives outside of Manhattan with her husband, baby boy, and rescue dog, Jax.