Working mothers have a lot to battle when it comes to corporate culture in America. If we’re not scratching our heads trying to find the elusive “work-life balance,” then we’re defending our priorities, insisting that we still care about our jobs after we’ve had a child. To that end, here are the four most common stereotypes about working moms — debunked.
Myth: Mothers don’t want to come back to work.
While 43 percent of mothers leave the workforce at one point or another, it’s not necessarily out of a desire not to work. It may be a matter of support: In fact, a Rutgers Center for Women and Work study found that the average woman is 63 percent likely to return to work without paid leave, but 76 percent more likely to return to work if she takes paid leave (in the 9-12 months postpartum).
Beyond simple human empathy and understanding, employers can take active steps to accommodate parents. For many successful companies, taking these steps has resulted in less turnover and increased profits. Patagonia, for example, offers family-friendly policies like eight weeks of fully paid parental leave, on-site childcare, and even pays for mothers to bring their baby (under age one) on work trips (and pays for a family member or caregiver to accompany mother and baby to provide child care). As a result, VP of human resources Dean Carter says Patagonia has “freakishly low turnover,” and an “almost perfect return rate” for mothers.
Truth: Family-friendly policies are key to increasing worker retention.
Myth: Mothers aren't as efficient.
Moms are not more or less efficient at work, as having a child doesn’t transform you into a multitasking robot or a bumbling mess of discarded Post-it notes. However, mothers do often fit the mold of an old adage: if you want something done, ask a busy person.
A 2014 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis showed that over a 30-year period, mothers outperformed both fathers and childless peers at work; mothers of at least two children were the most productive of all. It's true that the years before a child starts school take a toll on a parent's productivity. However, women who planned to become mothers (with maternity leave and paid sick time) were shown to be more efficient before and after this period.
Truth: Mothers get the job done.
Myth: Mothers don’t work as much as fathers.
When you combine paid and unpaid work, men and women work almost equal hours: For each dual-earner couple in the U.S., mothers racked up 59 hours of paid and unpaid work each week; fathers, 58. The issue, then, is not about how much women are willing to work, but how we define work. Unpaid work — like the housework that overwhelmingly falls to women — is still work, even when it’s undervalued.
Truth: We need to redefine “work” — it’s not just what’s done in an office.
Myth: Being a mom won’t affect your paycheck.
Corporate America has come a long way in paying women the wages they deserve. Recent research shows that in more than two dozen fields, women actually outearn their male counterparts immediately out of college. But that advantage is not extended to moms, who are instead systematically penalized at work, regardless of their individual strengths and goals.
A recent study found that men’s earnings increased more than 6 percent when they had a family, while women’s decreased 4 percent for each child they had. Critics suggest that the “mommy penalty” tracks leave time and reduced schedules. But when controlled for factors such as experience, education, hours worked, and spousal incomes, the research revealed the majority of the gap was rooted in simple discrimination, aka a cultural bias against mothers.
Truth: Once they become mothers, women make less money.