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‘Greedy’ Workplaces Are Still Holding Moms Back
Is yours one of them?
A friend of mine was recently named partner at a Big Four accounting firm. She doesn't have kids, and she’s unsure if she wants to be a parent. She loves her job, long hours and all, and she’s afraid having a child could derail her career.
It’s a valid fear.
Not only are women without child care responsibilities more likely than mothers to work in occupations that require long hours, according to new research, motherhood itself is a major reason why women are less likely to hold top jobs in time-intensive professions. In fact, if women without children and mothers were equally likely to work in time-intensive occupations, almost half of the gap in leadership between the two groups would disappear, says Rebecca Glauber, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire.
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Dr. Glauber analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Surveys, a set of surveys that follows cohorts of workers as they progress through their careers. Because the survey followed the same group over time, she was able to compare women before and after having children, to see whether the transition into motherhood impacted their work experiences and made them less likely to move into positions of authority in the workplace. (TLDR version: It did.)
“Mothers are basically doubly disadvantaged,” she says. “They’re paying a penalty for their gender, and they're paying an additional penalty for being a mother.”
The study adds to an emerging body of research that aims to explain a troubling phenomenon: Women now make up over half the college-educated labor force and outnumber men at U.S. colleges, yet our early-career momentum doesn’t seem to propel us to the top of our professions. Among Fortune 500 CEOs, only 10 percent are women. It’s a problem that begins at the first rung of the career ladder: For every 100 men promoted from entry level to manager, only 87 women are promoted.
Yes, plain, old-fashioned sexism accounts for some of that gap, but researchers have increasingly converged on a new culprit: “greedy” professions. At the same time women began catching up with men in educational attainment, managerial jobs started paying disproportionately more to people who work more than 50 hours a week. That’s particularly true in fields like accounting, finance and law. This emphasis on overwork tends to disadvantage people who can’t commit to 24/7 availability—you know, moms.
The data in Dr. Glauber’s analysis doesn’t detail whether moms voluntarily shift into less time-intensive positions—which she defines as jobs where individuals work an average of 45 hours per week, and many work upwards of 50 or more hours per week—or whether they’re just not hired for those roles.
“We can't tell whether women are opting out of a job or they're not being selected, but my thinking is that it's likely a bit of both,” she says. “I do think that implicit biases shape employers’ decisions, and make them less likely to promote mothers or help them move into positions of authority.”
Those implicit biases—often, that mothers are less competent and committed employees—are just plain wrong. Dr. Glauber found there is a smaller gap between mothers and women without children when it comes to likelihood of working in highly stressful occupations that require a lot of work effort or persistence, such as nursing and policing.
Essentially, moms can do hard jobs, but we can’t do them around the clock—at least, not while dads aren’t doing their fair share of child care and domestic duties. In a similar study that’s currently under review, Dr. Glauber finds that becoming a father does not affect men’s movement into or out of authority positions at all. Men can be both fathers and CEOs, and that’s likely due in part to the fact that moms still manage the home front.
Dr. Glauber is heartened by recent research showing that the pandemic prompted some dads to tackle more chores and child care, but she’s less optimistic that employers are truly committed to creating a workplace where caregivers can get ahead.
“A lot of professionals worked remotely during the pandemic, but I don't think that cultural norms about overwork changed that much. People did their work in different places, but employers still expected workers to log on all the time.”
In a country that’s infamous for working too much, it certainly won’t be easy to convince corporate leaders to stop placing a premium on employees who put in long hours. That’s why Dr. Glauber thinks it’s essential to make a strong business case for reasonable work norms.
After all, it seems intuitive that employees who work longer will make the company more money—but that’s a shortsighted take.
“Tired, stressed-out workers are not healthy and are not capable of making great decisions. Overwork could actually lead to profit losses and productivity losses,” she points out.
That should be a genuine concern for employers. In a global survey of 10,243 full-time desk-based workers, taken at the end of last year, 42% reported experiencing burnout.
There’s also a strong business case to be made for gender equality—and achieving gender equality can’t happen without caregivers.
“When whole groups of people are systematically overlooked, like mothers, employers lose out. There's research that backs this up—companies that have more gender diversity tend to be more profitable.”
Join us on April 20th for our WorkWell LiveWell Summit, presented by Indeed. The event will bring CEOs, CHROs, wellbeing champions, parents, caregivers, and employees together to share workplace solutions that support productivity, performance and wellbeing for all. Register here: https://hopin.com/events/work-well-summit/registration
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