The Parenthood Penalty and Other Gender Pay Gap Problems

31 March 2017 -


Employers are at risk of unfairly penalising working parents by failing to evolve workplace policies and behaviours to help staff balance work life with raising a family, new research has revealed

Jermaine Haughton

If you are a mother who is attempting to return to the workplace but finding full time opportunities and salaries limited, or a father who feels unable to fully enjoy family life due to the constant demands of work, it is likely you are suffering from the ‘Parenthood Penalty’.

Although traditionally, mothers are often the main focus of the substantial challenges faced by parents trying to climb the career ladder and take care of their family responsibilities, the 2017 Modern Families Index revealed many fathers are also struggling to cope.

While working mothers are often found to suffer a loss of earnings, promotions and career opportunities, the 2017 Modern Families Index found that working fathers are being pushed out of demanding, high pressure jobs, with many considering stalling or side-lining their careers to find roles they can better combine with family life.

Published by work-life charity Working Families and Bright Horizons, the Index found that almost half (47%) of working fathers want a less stressful job to improve their work-life balance, with over a third willing to take a pay cut for this.

Family is the highest priority for fathers, according to the study, with half of the respondents reporting that their work-life balance is increasingly a source of stress.

Highlighting workplace culture as a key problem, the report found a third of fathers feel burnt out regularly and one in five fathers are doing extra hours in the evening or weekends all the time. Fathers say they work extra hours because this is the only way to deal with their workload and that being seen to do long hours is important where they work.

For many fathers the workplace is unsupportive of their aspirations for a better work-life fit. For nearly one fifth, their employer is, at best, unsympathetic about childcare, expecting no disruption to work. At worst, they say they wouldn’t even tell their employer they had childcare problems – for fear of being viewed negatively.

Mothers Still Face Pay Gap

The Motherhood Penalty and lack of gender equality in many organisations continues to hold back millions of women.

According to a PwC report, three in five professional female work returners are moved into lower-skilled or lower-paid roles. And the negative effects of motherhood are long term.

A Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report showed that mothers earn a third less than men even 12 years after giving birth. Although, the wage gap is far smaller when women are young, it widens after the birth of their first baby. The IFS study suggested that this is because the time taken off and part-time working made it more likely mothers miss out on promotions and experience.

CMI’s 2016 National Management Salary Survey showed the gender pay gap has stuck stubbornly around 23%. Furthermore, men are 40% more likely than women to be promoted in management roles.

Age can also affect the extent a parent feels penalised in the workplace. A separate study from the TUC revealed women who have children before the age of 33 earn 15%  less than women who don't have children.

In addition to spending time out of the workforce, many younger mothers facing poor treatment at work, sometimes claiming to be forced out of their job because of issues around maternity leave. In contrast, older women with children working full-time are more likely to earn more than childless women, often because they are in senior posts, the research showed.

Kate Headley, director at diversity recruitment consultancy The Clear Company, says employers have yet to alter perceptions of working parents and develop a culture that embraces these individuals.

“The motherhood penalty has long been an issue that’s needed to be addressed by businesses,” she said. “Just because a woman has taken a career break in order to have a family, doesn’t mean they are any less capable of returning to their original job or worth less than those who haven’t made this life choice.

“The fact that we are now seeing a rise in men struggling to balance family life with work and considering pay cuts in order to spend better quality time with their children, suggests that age-old attitudes still haven’t changed.

“We’re operating in the gig economy – a fact which most company owners have accepted. However unless this idea of a parenthood penalty is stamped out now, firms will soon find themselves facing a backlash from parents, both male and female, who feel they are being unfairly treated. As we have come such a long way in providing a more flexible working environment, it is almost a step backwards that parents feel the need to take a pay cut in order have the work-life balance that should be readily available to them.”

In November, CMI launched its CMI Women campaign, aimed at getting 1.5m women into management by 2024. As part of the campaign, CMI has developed a free open source tool for employers to use to achieve 50/50 management. ‘Blueprint for Balance’ enables employers to share information and learn from other the practices and policies that have helped improve gender balance in their organisations.

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