When a professional woman becomes a mother, her time management, organization and problem-solving skills all become heightened so that she can tackle her busy days at home and at the office. These skills, combined with her professional experience, should make her a coveted colleague in the workplace, but instead, many companies overlook her qualifications and instead focus on the baby pictures on her desk.
When the Equal Pay Act was enacted in 1963, women earned only 60 percent of what their male counterparts did. Today, that has increased to 80 percent, and women earn more advanced degrees and hold more supervisory positions than ever before.
However, once a woman announces her pregnancy, it can put a halt on her ability to grow her professional role and her ability to earn more in her field. In fact, motherhood costs a working woman a 5 percent wage penalty per child. If that's not enough, working mothers often face the brunt of gender discrimination and even sexual harassment:
- The New York Times reported that motherhood is a greater predictor of wage inequality than gender in the U.S. In addition, motherhood imposes twice the earning penalty in the U.S. compared to countries that have publicly financed child care systems.
- According to the Huffington Post, a Cornell study found that when companies were given identical resumes – one a mother and the other not – the mother was 79 percent less likely to be hired, offered $11,000 less in salary, and was 100 percent less likely to be promoted.
- In one survey, noted The Guardian, among 1,975 working women, half thought their supervisors' attitudes toward them changed after they got pregnant, a quarter noted they lost out on promotions, and one-third found it impossible to climb the career ladder.
Many companies look at motherhood as a choice a woman has made and one that will sabotage their businesses' bottom lines, even when the mother returns to the office and maintains the same level of work she performed before maternity leave. For instance, the Huffington Post reported that in a discrimination case filed against Bloomberg L.P., supervisors were reported to have made comments such as that mothers “belong at home” and that “women (do) not really (have) a place in the workforce.”
Yet, these hardworking mothers are fighting back to protect their careers and their reputations. There has been a rise in discrimination lawsuits, reported the Harvard Business Review. Two-thirds of plaintiffs in family responsibilities discrimination cases prevail at trial – a success rate twice as high as those of plaintiffs in other discrimination cases. In the class-action arena, plaintiffs were awarded more than $250 million from Novartis Pharmaceuticals for the company's bias against working mothers.
Working mother phenomenon Sheryl Sandburg said in her book, Lean In, to help women – and the companies they work for – succeed in today's economy, “We need more portrayals of women as competent professionals and happy mothers. Or even happy professionals and competent mothers.” Therefore, companies need to rethink their biases and look at working moms as what they are – hard-working, experienced and dedicated professionals.