Are you paying the ‘motherhood penalty’?


Two sharp witted students fell in love with each other at a renowned university. Completed their studies together and kick started their respective careers with lucrative job offers. Got married to each other shortly after.

Possessing similar grades from same university, 8 years later, they have a difference of two job levels between each other. Husband being at a higher level.

Reason? The wife went on maternity leave. Twice.

This is a real life incident of a UK based couple.

We all have seen mothers being ill preferred for promotions, challenging projects or pay raise, following maternity leave. But this is still a less talked about issue.

Females contribute fairly equally towards the bright minded share of students in any university and in fact, a high percentage of toppers are females across various disciplines of education. But then, less than 5% of the CEOs are females across the US and Europe, as per the study by Heidrick and Struggles.

In fact, ‘motherhood penalty’ is the reason why various ambitious women are choosing ‘not’ to be a mother.

Can women have it all?

They say women can’t have it ‘all’. Is that true? I didn’t have an answer to it until I became a mother myself.

When I was far from even thinking about motherhood, I heard my husband saying – ‘a woman goes a year back in her career, as she goes on maternity leave’. This statement came from a female colleague of his, who had been a mother herself.

I brushed this statement off as I always looked up to various successful female leaders (like Indra Nooyi) who could have two kids and a career at the same time.

But now when I’m a mother, I realize it is practically not possible to be there for your child and also be able to attend every meeting, every workshop, every travel and every challenge at work. There will be numerous occasions when you have to ‘choose’.

What’s the alternative?

If you look for alternative options in this scenario, the concept of ‘lead parenting’ comes into the picture. Traditionally, it’s been women taking the role of ‘lead parent’ in almost all families but this is changing now.

Fathers are coming forward as lead parents ready to take a pause in their careers, in order for their spouses’ careers to fly. But this isn’t as easy as it sounds.

The bonding between a kid and the mother is biologically stronger than with the father for obvious reasons. A child needs his mother as much as his father, and even more sometimes.

It needs a robust understanding between the partners to ensure that while the father acts as a lead parent, they are still able to maintain the bond that a mother needs to have with her kid. And most importantly, a mother shouldn’t suffer in guilt and remorse for not being there for her kid, which again needs that the understanding prevails between the couple.

How much ever household help one hires at home to take care of kids, one parent has to be ‘there’ to attend sports or cultural events, parent-teacher meet ups or any other thing where his friends are accompanied by their parents. Further, it is imperative for kids to have a parent to help cope with their changing emotions, especially at adolescence.

And at work…

Not just at home, the solution also lies in changing things at work. The organizations though have a so called ‘diversity target’ for management positions but it is not enforced as much as it should be.

While equality and diversity are considered pillars of ‘corporate social responsibility’, the situation is still far from what could be a termed as ‘ideal’.

The success stories of women who outrivalled as leaders need to be shared for others to gain confidence in empowering women with management positions. And the woman who go up the ladder should also remember to lift the others up.

The magical combination of inclusiveness and equality at workplace and support from the partner at home is what can promise that ‘women can have it ALL’.

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