The Mother Tax: Working Moms Are at the Breaking Point

What will it take for employers to account for the heightened responsibilities of moms in the workplace?

For working moms, The Great Resignation is a fallacy: It’s a misnomer that women have chosen to resign from their jobs in droves. Rather, they’re being forced out of their jobs by unjust work structures. Working moms have been pushed to their breaking point, balancing their careers with caregiving obligations.

The Mother Handicap

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 72 percent of moms work in the U.S. Yet, working moms are burdened with seldom-addressed inequities, a handicap businesses impose on them, further setting behind women’s equality. They face unfair penalties at work including lower incomes, are overlooked for promotions and forced out of jobs. For each child they have, mothers get a 5 to 10 percent pay cut on average. Meanwhile fathers get a 6 percent pay bump per child.  

The pandemic exacerbated inequities for working moms. Tasked with running a household in a remote and socially-distant world meant overseeing schooling, entertaining and monitoring kids in the absence of after-school programming, and caring for children’s emotional needs—all while adjusting to work from home and managing work responsibilities amidst worldwide uncertainty.

Entering year three of the pandemic, 53 percent of working moms are getting less than six hours of sleep per night. Almost a quarter of working moms have no time for self-care, including healthy eating, exercise or connecting with friends. As the primary caregiver in many households—33 percent of married working moms have identified themselves as their children’s sole care provider—many women have been forced to choose between their kids and their careers.

Working moms absorbed the shockwaves COVID-19 caused in families, especially those with young children. The exorbitant responsibility forced them from their careers: Today, there are nearly two million fewer women in the workforce than there were at the beginning of the pandemic. Mothers, and particularly mothers of color, left their jobs at higher rates than any other demographic.

For each child they have, mothers get a 5 to 10 percent pay cut on average. Meanwhile fathers get a 6 percent pay bump per child.  

Technology’s Problem with Women

There is perhaps no field more inequitable for women than the technology industry. Today, women make up a mere 26 percent of the computing-related workforce. Thirty-eight percent of women in tech plan on leaving their jobs in the next two years. Ultimately, these statistics expose concerning trends about tech’s failure to push for flexibility, work/life balance, and effective DEI strategies.

It’s not uncommon amongst the Women Impact Tech community to hear women say they are one of a few, if not the only woman on their tech team. This is at the crux of our community’s work: to dismantle systemic barriers—which disproportionately affect working moms—to rebalance privilege and power in tech fields.

During the early days of the pandemic, women in the tech industry were twice as likely to be furloughed or laid off than their male counterparts. In the years since, 54 percent of women say that the pandemic is making it harder for them to break into the tech industry.

As countries around the globe celebrate job recoveries for women, the U.S. lags behind, hindered by a lack of affordable childcare and elder care that’s prevented many from re-entering the workforce. Women are unsupported in the workplace, and working moms are being pushed past their breaking point.

What will it take for employers to create work structures that account for the needs of moms?

As the primary caregiver in many households—33 percent of married working moms have identified themselves as their children’s sole care provider—many women have been forced to choose between their kids and their careers.

Create Corporate Structures Based on Moms’ Needs

Employers need to design work structures that are conducive to the responsibilities of working moms. If they want to have women in the workplace, companies need to be flexible with the type of structure these employees need.

In order to retain women who are balancing responsibilities at home, give them flexibility in their schedules. Remote work brought a level of flexibility and self-determination to these moms’ lives that they can’t afford to give up. Only around 22 percent of women want to go back into the office full-time.

Supporting the unique needs of working moms allows them to bring their best to work, their families, and still have the bandwidth to care for themselves. Starting points for corporations include:

  • Provide childcare support, either via on-site facilities or direct financial support to help working parents cover costs.
  • Encourage people of all genders to take parental leave—child leave should not be solely relegated as women’s work. Don’t punish any employee who takes parental leave; in fact, celebrate it.
  • Root out the myriad forms of discrimination that plague working moms in your workplace—from pay reduction to being overlooked for promotion opportunities to being edged out of jobs entirely. Create work structures that uplift all employees to achieve their highest potential.

Working moms deserve the world. The least we can do is create equitable work structures for them to thrive.

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About

Paula Bratcher Ratliff is the president of Women Impact Tech where she leads strategic direction and daily operations. Ratliff has spent the past 20 years architecting and leading teams that provide workforce solutions for staffing, RPO, MSP and consulting services for Fortune 500 companies in North America and globally. She has led corporate supplier diversity, sustainability, and diversity and inclusion initiatives throughout her career. Women Impact Tech has allowed Ratliff to bridge her industry expertise and passion for diversity and inclusion into one leadership role. Ratliff loves to live life to the fullest with her wife and their young daughter and son.