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14 October 2014

What does becoming a parent mean for your career?

A PwC-alum and good friend of mine who wrote a great blog on “having it all” e-introduced me to Sarah Wang, this week’s guest blogger. Sarah, a freelance writer and former attorney, shares her ire over the confounding fact that women and men are treated dramatically differently in the workplace after becoming parents. When people find out that my job is about bringing more diversity into leadership the first thing they want to know is: why? Why aren’t women already there? We know more educated women are currently graduating in greater numbers than men, and we know that companies have been publicly committed to developing talented women for decades. So what’s the deal?

The answer to that question is complicated, nuanced, and multi-faceted. However, I believe that Sarah hits on one of the key factors of this conundrum in her insightful and hilarious blog. Enjoy!

Dale

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S. Wang PhotoI recently took a bit of a break from blogging, where I focused on important things, like mastering the grocery store (I am serious) and learning how to both pronounce and cook quinoa. I was having a perfectly enjoyable little break, until I read this article describing the “motherhood penalty” and the “fatherhood bonus.”

And just like that, my blogging break was over. Take a deep breath, everyone: the article explains that after controlling for variables like hours, types of jobs, experience, and salaries of spouses, research shows men’s pay increases around six percent when they have kids, and women’s pay decreases around four percent when they have kids. Why, you might ask? Well, the research shows that the majority of this motherhood penalty is because of “discrimination” and “a cultural bias against mothers.”

Oh come ON. I wrote about some of this nonsense four years ago here and it’s hard to see where we have made much progress. But maybe this hard data—and giving the “motherhood penalty” a catchy little name!—will help.

For one, it should answer questions about why women leave the workforce more than men after having children. No, it is not because our ovaries flip some maternal switch in our bras, causing us to prioritize nap schedules and diaper changes above all else. It is because, for many families, after paying hundreds, even thousands, of dollars a month for childcare and then dealing with an actual monetary penalty in their paychecks, quitting may be the most rational choice. Throw in the stress of, say, pumping milk in a supply closet in between client meetings, or knowing that your daddy colleagues are getting high fives while you are getting eye rolls, and the decision becomes even more reasonable.

Also, maybe it will encourage supervisors to be aware of what messages they are sending to their employees and what cultural biases they are reinforcing. I have spoken with plenty of women about that intangible shift that happens in the office when they announce that they’re expecting. Many of you know what I’m talking about: suddenly finding yourself out of the loop on projects you used to manage; supervisors assuming you don’t want challenging work anymore; people asking if you’re really going to come back to the office after maternity leave. I’ve talked with two talented women in different and demanding fields about supervisors who explicitly said they expected them to have one foot out the door if—IF—they came back from maternity leave. Sigh. I want to believe that these supervisors think they are being supportive of a huge life change. But assuming that moms don’t care about their careers anymore isn’t supportive, it’s ridiculous. Also, um, discriminatory.

Speaking of that, I will leave you with this little nugget. This summer I was small talking with someone I had just met while on vacation. Turns out he was a law firm partner. When I told him I had worked at a big law firm and was taking some time off, he seemed sympathetic to my decision. And then he said, “Look, I hate to say it, but 30-something moms working in a law firm are the worst. They’re so entitled and think they should get treated like the men, and then they need all these breaks during the day and want to go pick up their kids early. It’s just non-stop drama.”

OH COME ON! I was enraged, and I am pretty sure smoke came out of my ears. But then I used my highly trained analytical thinking skills and realized something: that guy was old. Very, very old. And the fact that he was saying nonsense like that out loud to lady strangers showed some extremely poor judgment. He is literally the old guard, and his days of passing over talented women because he’s sexist (oh yes he is) are numbered. And then what will happen? Well, all of us more enlightened folks will be in charge, and the motherhood penalty will just refer to something else less devastating. Like when your skinny jeans don’t fit and your youngest child is seven – it’s not baby weight anymore, it’s the motherhood penalty. Or when you hear yourself yelling sophisticated things like, “The next person who makes a potty joke is sleeping outside tonight!” you guessed it; that’s the motherhood penalty talking.

Sarah Wang is a recovering attorney and freelance writer who blogs at mamaesq.com. She frequently overshares and writes about whatever sticks in her craw, including women’s issues and work life balance, and cares a little too much about celebrity gossip. Sarah lives outside of Washington, DC, with her husband and two amazing kids.