Motherhood provides a leadership boost, but penalties remain
- An overwhelming majority of respondents in a recent survey said that working moms bring out the best in employees, compared to working fathers and those without children. According to Bright Horizons' Modern Family Index, released Jan. 28, workers generally believe that women with children are better listeners, calmer during crises, better at multitasking and better at time management.
- But despite these numbers, a majority believe the motherhood penalty is real: 72% of both working moms and dads agree that women are penalized in their careers for starting families, while men are not.
- Most women also said they believe they must work harder to prove themselves and gain a leadership position at work. And because leadership roles often are dominated by men, 37% of working moms worry they don't "fit the leadership mold," Bright Horizons said.
While employers must take care to avoid gender discrimination, it's worth noting that employees perceive working moms — a demographic that has traditionally faced career hurdles — as strong candidates for leadership.
Some employers may have realized this already, as they're increasingly working to make the workplace a welcoming space for mothers, offering childcare benefits, lactation rooms and extended maternity leave. But statistics show that women are still disappearing from the talent pipeline, in part because those in their mid-careers experience bias based on motherhood and work-life balance matters.
Other studies echo Bright Horizon's findings — that the motherhood penalty appears alive and well, at least as far as married employees are concerned. Married working mothers suffer a penalty in pay and promotions, 2018 University of Arizona research revealed, while married working fathers often enjoy a "fatherhood premium," placing them ahead of their male colleagues without children. Notably, the study concluded that those penalties and premiums may not exist for single parents. Single working mothers are perceived as breadwinners, and not seen as less competent or committed; single working fathers are seen as breadwinners and caretakers, but also neither penalized or praised.
True equality in leadership may depend on employers standardizing pay and promotion criteria and conducting unconscious bias training, but it also may require that working dads take advantage of parental benefits and leave, too.
Follow Riia O'Donnell on Twitter