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What Is the Motherhood Penalty in the Workplace?

What Is the Motherhood Penalty in the Workplace?
What Is the Motherhood Penalty in the Workplace?

What Is the Motherhood Penalty in the Workplace?

Did you know that companies used to be able to fire women who announced they were pregnant? Nowadays, that’s illegal, but the bias against pregnant women and mothers remains. Fathers are considered breadwinners and welcomed at work, but mothers are not seen as such. Instead, they’re punished in various ways for simply being mothers who happen to also have a job. This is called the motherhood penalty. We specialize in women’s therapy services to help women navigate these workforce challenges. Learn more about these issues in the workplace through this blog.

Salary Drop

A big reason behind the gender pay gap is the wage gap between mothers and men. This gap increases even after you’ve given birth. It only gets bigger, even years down the line, and it never completely disappears. This puts you at a disadvantage, especially if you’re a single mother. Pregnant women or mothers who are looking for work are offered a lower starting salary than childless women. Fathers, on the contrary, tend to be offered a higher salary than childless men. The double standard is obvious.

Fewer Work Opportunities

Pregnant women and mothers receive fewer work opportunities than men or their childless counterparts. You are less likely to be recommended for hire, for example. You’re less likely to be called back after an interview. This can make job hunting far more frustrating. At work, this manifests in a different way. You already have a job, so instead, you miss out on salary raises and promotions. It also means that you’re more likely to lose your job in difficult times. During the pandemic, it was women who lost their jobs more than men.


A big reason behind this discrimination is the existence of old stereotypes and biases. Working mothers are considered less competent at work. Where fathers are considered more committed to their jobs, mothers are thought to be far less committed than anyone else in the office. Mothers are not seen as reliable workers. Instead, you’re seen as requiring too many accommodations: flexible work hours or the ability to work remotely at times. This is why salary raises and promotions are few and far in between. Even if you ask for one, you may be rejected because they believe you’ve got too many accommodations as it is.

Held to a Higher Standard

As a result of these biases, mothers are held to a much higher standard in the workplace. Your punctuality will be observed harshly. If you leave the office early, you will be judged for it more than others, never mind the reason why. But sometimes, these biases show in the smallest of ways. You’re talking with your coworkers about nothing in particular. You bring up your kids once. They’re a big part of your life, after all. You’re a mother, so why would you hide that? Next thing you know, your coworkers think you were distracted earlier, simply because you mentioned your kids.

But that coworker of yours that happens to be a father? He did the same thing, but instead, your colleagues think he’s such a caring dad. And he might be, of course. That’s not the problem. The fact that either of you mentioned your kids is not the problem. The problem is the double standard mothers face at work.

A Mother in the Workplace

Being a mother is difficult. Raising children is difficult, more so if you’re a single mother. But being a working mother means you will be discriminated against in the workplace in a variety of ways.

These things can take their toll on you. That’s why, if you find it’s all too much, you might want to consider seeking a counselor. Reach out today to schedule an appointment, and we’ll help you deal with these difficult parts of your life. We specialize in women’s therapy. We are located in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area and offer telehealth sessions to clients all over Minnesota.


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Through Therapy Collective

Our team of culturally competent therapists is here to offer a warm and safe space to help you navigate life’s hardships with a sense of encouragement and empathy. Find out more >

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