3 actions to curb the motherhood penalty

by Lisa Durante

The latest results are in: it will take another 217 years to close the pay gap. Today, women in every economy around the world earn less than their male counterparts.

But, it’s not just pay that’s holding us back. Women are 18% less likely to be promoted than their male peers. Women are also held to higher standards than men. A Bank of England report found that women are 20% more likely to be fired for misconduct even when they make the same mistakes as male counterparts.

So, what gives? Is it that women just aren’t built for the workforce?


Or so we have been led to believe.

Women, at least biologically, are destined to be mothers. And, because of that superpower, all women are penalized – even those who have no plans for children.

These penalties against mothers, also called the maternal wall, accounts for 80% of the gender wage gap. It’s also the reason mothers are thought to be less committed to their jobs, less reliable to their team and less competent to perform their job.

These systemic barriers against mothers not only hold working mothers back, they hold back all women, girls and men, too.

There is much to do in the next 200 years to balance out the scales, here are three easy steps you can take to help balance out the scales.


Balance the load at home

It begins at home. Yes, it’s true more men are doing more work at home. But, the truth is, women continue to do more, no matter how many hours they work outside the home or how much they earn.

It’s time to get to a closer balance. Sure, it doesn’t seem fair that we have to push for this shift. But, if we don’t take the actions today very little will change tomorrow.  Check out this post, and this one for tips on how you can do this.


Be a friend

At work, at the park or in the school playground, be a friend to the women around you. Sure, you don’t need to hang out at the mall together, but you could publicly recognize women for their accomplishments. We can also stop passing judgement on other mothers because they’ve chosen a different path from yours. And, look for ways to amplify women’s voices. Too often women are drowned out by men. If you see it, call out the bad behavior and give her back the floor.

If that isn’t enough for you, being a friend will benefit you, too. There are countless studies that show the physical, emotional and mental benefits of giving to others.


Instill equality in the next generation

Children are our future. So, if we want a more equal and fair world for them, we have to teach them to think and act fairly. Going back to the earlier point, you can model equality by sharing household chores with your partner. Similarly, you can set equal expectations for your sons as you do your daughters – be it at home, at school and everywhere in between.

We also need to change the conversation at home. We can start by openly talking to our kids about the work we do, the joy we get from our careers and the challenges we face to make it all come together. Dads can do the same. The more we talk about the dual roles we play – the more understanding and empathetic the next generation will be toward working parents.

As Muhatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world” because we will all benefit.


Lisa Durante is committed to helping working mothers thrive. She offers training and resources to prepare mothers for the transitions that come with parenthood. She also offers training and consulting services to companies so they can better support and retain employees through parental transitions. Learn more at lisadurante.com.