The Motherhood penalty benefits no one

A recent study out of Denmark, spanning three decades, explored the relationship between having children and gender inequality. Essentially it found that even if we could achieve "perfectly equal pay for equal work" there would still be large gender inequality in earnings.

It found the gender pay gap is driven by Labor force participation, hours of work and wage rates. The most striking finding from this research is that “child penalties are gradually taking over as the key driver of gender inequality.”

In Australia women still do the majority of child caring responsibilities resulting in less workforce participation over a life time. Part time work is also far more prevalent for women in Australia, with women making up 68% of the part time workforce. Women also move into industries that offer more flexibility, but are generally lower paid. Highly paid, professional part time roles are a rarity. In addition according to research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) part time workers have poorer levels of pay progression and miss out on earnings growth associated with permanent jobs.

The cumulative effect is the earnings gap over a lifetime is huge.

What’s answer? Stop having children? Take only paid leave and return to full time work? (Perhaps robot nannies could meet the childcare demand…..ok I have watched too many Black Mirror episodes!!) The solution is probably not that drastic. Firstly we need to prioritise the issue and say financial loss and lack of career advancement should not be accepted consequences of having children. We then need to develop strategies that ensure the motherhood penalty doesn’t continue to be an ongoing long term penalty for women.Areas where we could start to make a difference include:    

  • More flexible roles at management and senior level

  • Supported programs to assist with transitioning back to work

  • Evolving recruitment models to remove the stigma of a CV gap

  • Businesses need to engage, support and proactively attract women back into roles aligned to their level.

  • Progression paths, training and promotions for part time roles are critical.

……to name but a few

The research out of Denmark, a country known for its family friendly policies demonstrates there is still a lot of work to do and there is no one solution. Equal pay for equal work should be addressed no question, but it’s not the answer to closing the gender pay gap. As a society we can't keep doing things the same way and expecting different outcomes. We know when women have more money families, communities and society prosper. The motherhood penalty benefits no one.

Michelle Ayyuce