Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Working Mothers: Better Workers but Paid Less

There's a common misconception in the workplace that mothers are inevitably taking more time off and less capable of focusing on their work than their childless peers. New research has put the focus on working moms, revealing that they don't take more time off than their co-workers yet they're getting paid less overall. Bloggers and advocates across the web have been discussing this disconnect and providing great insight into the misconceptions.

Working mothers are generally seen by many co-workers as uncommitted to their jobs - pulled mentally and physically to their children, hypothetically causing their work to suffer. Victoria Pynchon at Forbes notes: "Had I chosen the far more difficult path of combining career with motherhood, I would have been forced to work in a more focused manner, to organize myself and my working teams better, and to get my work done between, say, 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. instead of between 10 a.m. and one in the morning." Other employers echo this sentiment and prefer hiring mothers because they generally work faster, are better multi-taskers and have a sense of responsibility. Plus, the experience of motherhood enhances their management skills overall. Recent research also reveals that the number of absences due to illness, injury, or medical problems is actually twice to three times as high as the days taken for maternity leave, child care problems and other family and personal obligations.

Despite what many employers could see as a boon to the workplace, working mothers are paid up to 14% less than their childless peers, according to a recent study. Women already make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes and adding motherhood to her resume could drive that number down even further. Kate Krause of the Unversity of New Mexico and lead author of the study explains, "I can explain some of that gap by voluntary steps that women might take. I might take a less demanding job if it gives me more time with my children in exchange for a lower wage. Or, in anticipation of having children, I might get less college education because why get it if I'm going to stay home with the kids?" In addition, when women have been out of the workforce for any period of time, they seem to shortchange themselves - feeling as though their qualifications aren't as valuable because they took a couple years off. Of course, the issue of discrimination is also largely at play despite laws designed to prevent it. Some employers will simply offer mothers less work and less opportunities to really prove themselves. Perhaps a new element to this debate are the penalties for working part-time. Working only a few hours less than someone who is working full time makes you ineligible for benefits, paid days-off and certain workplace protections.

The debate just sheds more light on the fact that the United States seems unwilling to provide support to mothers. Mandating paid parental leave, subsidizing child care and encouraging businesses to provide benefits to part-time workers would go a long way towards helping mothers manage the so-called "work-life balance."

How has your career changed since becoming a mother?

The Wage Gap Between Moms, Other Working Women [NPR]
Why Working Mothers Make Us Angry [Forbes]
Working Mothers Pose Fewer Burdens For Employers Than Their Co-Workers [Forbes]