The Pregnant Prime Minister and Other Working Moms

Many young women feel they must choose between pursuing a career and having children. While support is (slowly) growing for paid family leave and employer-supported day care, only a few role models exist of women in senior leadership roles who are also new mothers. Some recent examples provide inspiration for both women and men. Charlotte Graham-McLay of the New York Times reports that Prime Minister Jacinda Arden of New Zealand recently became only the second world leader to give birth while in office (Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan was the first in 1990). While Prime Minister Arden acknowledged that she is privileged to have a partner who will be a stay-at-home parent, she also speaks openly about how her dual responsibilities as a leader and a parent still require a balancing act. “And there is guilt behind every door,” she explains. Her hope is that one day women will be able to feel satisfied with making choices and doing the best they can in both the workplace and the family without guilt. Prime Minister Arden notes that seeing women who are both leaders and new parents is still unusual, but she predicts that one day this situation will become normal. In fact, in the New Zealand Parliament, at least five lawmakers returned to work after the most recent elections as parents of babies under a year old. In the United States, Senator Tammy Duckworth became the first senator to deliver a baby while in office in April 2018, forcing changes in senate rules that previously did not allow children in the senate chamber. Another example of a new mother forging pathways is Rebecca Slaughter, a newly appointed Federal Trade Commission (FTC) commissioner—one of the nation’s top business regulators in Washington, DC. Cecilia Kang of the New York Times reports that Slaughter, who gave birth to her third child on the day of her nomination to the FTC, brings her nursing baby to work. Slaughter shares that while she is tired, she cares deeply about her career and her family and it feels worth it to navigate the two. None of the senior leaders in these examples say that having a new baby and a career is easy, but they stress that certain adaptations can help, like cutting back on business travel and evening networking events. Kang reports that the male colleagues of Slaughter say that her decision to continue working with the baby helps all working parents. What has worked for you?   Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash]]>

Pregnancy Discrimination and the Motherhood Pay Gap: We Need a #MomsToo Movement

We have heard a lot in recent months about sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace, thanks to the #MeToo movement. But one form of gender discrimination we don’t hear a lot about is the deeply ingrained antimotherhood bias that takes a heavy toll on women’s pay and careers. Antimotherhood bias includes bias and discrimination against pregnant women, as reported by Natalie Kitroeff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg of the New York Times, who share a range of painful stories of women being fired or demoted for being pregnant. It also includes bias and discrimination against women once they have children, which is often casual, open, and unapologetic, according to Katherine Goldstein of the New York Times, even though this discriminations is illegal. This systemic bias is found in large corporations, such as Merck and Walmart, government organizations, and small businesses. Claire Cain Miller writes that antimother bias may account for most of the stubborn gender pay gap. Miller, Goldstein, Kitroeff, and Silver-Greenberg note these recent findings:

  • Research regularly shows that mothers are routinely viewed as less competent and committed to their jobs, even by other women, despite evidence to the contrary. This bias can result in women being bypassed for promotions, high visibility assignments, and bonuses when they have a child.
  • A study published in the American Journal of Sociology found that in instances where job candidates were equal in every other way, being a mother reduced the chance that a candidate would be offered the job by 37 percentage points. The recommended salary for mothers who were offered the job was $11,000 less on average than for childless female candidates. This hiring bias does not affect fathers at all. In fact, fathers tend to make more money than their childless male counterparts.
  • Couples today tend to have similar incomes at the beginning of their careers until their first child is born. Immediately after the first birth, the pay gap between spouses doubles, entirely driven by a drop in the mother’s pay, while men’s wages keep rising.
  • When women have their first child between the ages of 25 and 35, their pay never recovers, relative to that of their husbands. This is less true if the first child is born before 25 or after 35 because the woman’s career either has not yet gotten started before 25 or is already established by the time she is in her late 30s.
  • Each child chops 4 percent off a woman’s hourly wage, according to a study conducted in 2014 by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and the pay gap grows larger for each additional child born.
  • Even in families in which both parents work full time, women spend almost double the time on housework and childcare. This often means that women work fewer hours, are paid proportionately less, and become less likely to get promotions or raises.
Why don’t women speak out about being passed over for promotions, visible assignments, and raises because of motherhood? Goldstein suggests that women may feel they have more to lose by speaking out. Women who are trying to have both a career and a family are pushing against negative judgment from both employers and society. They may internalize this judgment and feel guilty—and they have families to support and cannot risk being laid off or further penalized. Many lawsuits are working their way through the courts, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has had more complaints filed in recent times than ever before about discrimination against working mothers, but we still don’t hear much about this issue. What will it take to bring about change? Miller points out that more women running for political office may mean that this issue gets addressed. For example, Senator Tammy Duckworth recently became the first United States senator to give birth while in office, and she subsequently fought for changes in accommodations and practices, such as availability of a lactation room, to support mothers in the Senate. Research has also shown some other policy changes that can help women who are mothers:
  • Programs to help women reenter the workforce
  • Flexibility in when and where work gets done
  • Subsidized childcare
  • Time off for men after children are born so they can spend more time on childcare
Women may need to share their stories in a #MomsToo movement. What are your stories?   Photo courtesy of Ran Allen (CC BY 2.0)]]>

Daughter Care: The Cost to Women of Long-term Care

My sister and I took care of our mother during the last months of her life. She developed fast-growing brain tumors and, mercifully, was incapacitated and bedridden for only a few months before she passed away. We quickly became exhausted and unable to physically care for her without professional help as she declined. It was a shock to discover how expensive it is to hire home health support and how little the long-term care insurance, for which she had been paying over decades, would reimburse. None of us had the financial means to pay for much support for very long. She passed quickly, but a family can rapidly become financially drained trying to care for family members. Realistically, women pay the biggest price for both elder care and childcare—as unpaid family caregivers. Roni Caryn Rabin of the New York Times writes that, as our population ages, “the essential role that daughters play in the American healthcare system is well known but has received little attention.” Rabin notes that a crisis is emerging for women and their employers as the population ages and the number of dementia patients increases. Rabin cites a recent report in JAMA Neurology that states that, “by 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 or older, and the number of older Americans living with dementia is expected to increase to 8.5 million, up from 5.5 million now.” Rabin notes that while more men have gotten involved with some care giving for older adults, the burden is not shared equally and disproportionately falls on daughters and female spouses for care of parents and in-laws. What are the costs of unpaid care giving for women? Rabin reveals the following:

  • A report from the Alzheimer’s Association states that employed women who are caregivers are seven times more likely than men to cut down from full-time to part-time employment because of care-giving duties.
  • Women are more likely to take a leave of absence from work and lose employment benefits.
  • Women are more likely to be penalized at work, or forced to quit, because of care-giving responsibilities.
  • Women are more likely to lose opportunities for advancement, retirement funding, and their ability to send kids to college because of elder-care responsibilities.
Liz O’Donnell, writing for the online journal Cogniscenti, offers this advice to daughters who are caregivers:
  • Don’t quit. The job market for women over fifty is not promising.
  • Hang in and continue to build your skills and network.
  • Protect your career and your family member.
In a previous article, I wrote about the negative impact on women’s employment levels due to care-giving responsibilities. We need comprehensive family support policies such as those available in Europe for affordable childcare, paid family leave and elder-care support. Family support policies are good for all of us and for our economy.   Photo courtesy of Chad Miller. CC by-sa 2.0  ]]>