Busted: 3 Myths About Moms In The Workplace
Welcome to my weekly Q&A feature. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)
If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions — tough questions, brave questions, you name it. The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. Each week I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.
The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusion.
- Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.
- Inclusion: bringing others along on the journey.
3 Myths About Moms In The Paid Labor Force
How do we prepare women for the challenges they will face after becoming a working mother?
Curious about something? Ask your question here for a chance to have it answered in an upcoming edition of Brave Souls®.
Out of curiosity, I googled how to prepare for being a working mom. I received these tips:
- Map out your morning routine
- Plan meals ahead of time
- Schedule downtime
- Delegate chores
Ok, sure. It helps to have a structured routine and family members who can assist around the house. But really? Moms deserve better than these insolent tips that buttress the women-as-primary-caretakers narrative. To truly prepare women for the challenges they will face after becoming moms, we need to bust a few myths.
Myth #1: Mommy’s job is just for purses and shoes
The truth: Working isn’t an option for millions of mothers in the US.
We need to bust the myth of the secondary income that leads people to believe a mother’s wages are just for purses and shoes.
During my first pregnancy, people often asked me if I intended to stay home after my son was born. The question caught me off guard. I didn’t have a choice whether I was going to stay home with my son. I had to work because I was and still am the breadwinner for my family. And I’m not alone.
40% of US households with children under the age of 18 are headed by breadwinner moms. That’s 16 million breadwinner moms supporting 28 million children. Of those 28 million children, 29% of them belong to households with Black breadwinner moms who, by the way, have the most egregious gender pay gap of any cohort of women in the US. They earn just 44 cents for every dollar earned by white breadwinner dads.
Myth #2: Moms are less committed to their jobs than other employees
The truth: Moms are the most productive employees over the course of their careers.
Yet moms experience a barrage of bias nearly every step of the way:
1. Mothers are perceived as 12.1 percentage points less committed to their jobs than non-mothers. Meanwhile, fathers are perceived as 5 percentage points more committed to their jobs than non-fathers.
2. Female applicants who appear not to be mothers are twice as likely to get a job interview than female applicants who appear to have children.
3. 69% of working adults believe mothers in the workplace are more likely to be passed up for a new job than other employees.
4. 60% of working adults believe career opportunities are given to less qualified employees instead of working moms who may have more skills.
5. Women face a 4% drop in wages for every child they have, whereas men receive a 6% wage increase for having children.
6. The aggregate wage gap between working mothers and fathers in the US is $18,000 per year. It’s even wider for mothers of color. The average Latina working mother misses out on $35,000 annually and $1.4 million over her lifetime as a result of the pay gap.
Myth #3: Moms need to change their behavior and expectations to succeed at work
The truth: We need to change inequitable systems, not mothers.
Amy Westervelt summed it up nicely: “We expect women to work like they don’t have children, and raise children as if they don’t work.”
Tangled into the web of mommy bias are the implausible — borderline irrational — expectations placed on mothers. Good moms make their kids’ lunches. Good moms would never order pizza for dinner. Good moms tuck their kids into bed every night.
Mothers operate inside a system that doesn’t value them equitably. Organizations (including the media) mobilize around the idea that mothers need to change to fit in. How about instead of asking moms to conform to an inequitable system, we flip the system to be equitable for everyone, including moms?
It requires us to:
- Redefine what it means to be a “good mom.” Hint: There’s more than one way.
- Obviate mommy bias by embedding equity into the employee lifecycle.
3. Create workplace cultures that facilitate authenticity without retaliation.
…Regarding point #3, the elusive culture component. It’s not enough to have a gender-neutral paid leave policy. You also need to create a culture where employees aren’t afraid to use it.
- What do you value? (Productivity, profit, wellbeing?)
- Whom do you value? (Caretakers, single employees, fathers?)
- How do you value them? (Compensation, recognition, promotions?)
Culture will answer these questions. And the work of culture building will fall largely on the shoulders of CEOs. To see what “culture building” means in practice, check out this example from the CEO of Code2College.
To create more equitable cultures, we also need to normalize taking career breaks. Giving birth is a biological process that necessitates time away from the office. LinkedIn, for its part, added a feature that allows people to communicate their career breaks in their profile. (Although, the real success metric will be how many people add a career break to their profiles without unintentionally triggering a stigma penalty.)
To summarize, we need to:
- Recognize that moms’ wages support millions of US households
- Acknowledge that moms drive superior business results
- Change systems to be equitable by default