Women overall make labor force gains; mothers thrown under the bus

This briefing on women in the workforce is impressive. While I am excited that women have made economic progress, I am still distressed about the sexism that is still inherent in the workforce. This companion article aptly points out that the gender inequality issues we have yet to confront in the workforce have to do with issues like the lack of Paid Family Leave, unequal pay between men and women and the lack of representation of women in higher levels at a company.

However, this article goes on to make a wrong turn:

Many women feel they have to choose between their children and their careers. Women who prosper in high-pressure companies during their 20s drop out in dramatic numbers in their 30s and then find it almost impossible to regain their earlier momentum. Less-skilled women are trapped in poorly paid jobs with hand-to-mouth child-care arrangements. Motherhood, not sexism, is the issue: in America, childless women earn almost as much as men, but mothers earn significantly less. And those mothers’ relative poverty also disadvantages their children.

We all know that, to a large extent, discrimination against mothers is discrimination against women. If it were simply about children being a liability for those in the labor force, fathers would be penalized in the labor force more than men without children. Recent studies reflect that: fathers get higher ratings than non-dads and there is no difference between the callbacks that father and non-dads receive upon sending a resume. All the while, these same studies reflect that female mothers get the shaft:

Using fake resumes for two equally qualified candidates-one childless, one a mom–the researchers found that the mother was 100% less likely to be hired when she applied for a position. Mothers were consistently ranked as less competent and less committed than non-moms.

The problem with the companion article’s analysis is that it does the issue of gender equality a disservice because it implies that children belong to women, and women alone. Figuring in how fathers also fare in the labor force supports the fact that mothers are marginalized, but they are marginalized because they are women.

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11 Comments

  1. Caro13
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Not to mention that widespread discrimination in pay, hiring, and promotion against mothers could be damaging to any woman whose employer believes (correctly or not) that she is likely to have children in the near future.

  2. Fresh Peaches
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    “Using fake resumes for two equally qualified candidates-one childless, one a mom–the researchers found that the mother was 100% less likely to be hired when she applied for a position.”
    I would be curious to know how they represented that one was a mother and one was not on the resume. Not that it changes the implications of the outcome, but it’s generally…odd…to mention your family or personal life on your resume. Not unheard of, but definitely atypical for more “professional” jobs.

  3. Mama Mia
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    To indicate motherhood, they listed that she was an officer in a parent association like the PTA.

  4. uberhausfrau
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    what great news, considering i will be attempting to re-enter the workforce in the fall.

  5. Phenicks
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I’m taking that to mean that few places would consider being an officer in the PTA a plus more than it would mean that you have an outside obligation to another organization and may not be able to stay late or do other things a person without that repsonsibility would be able to do.
    IE if the childless woman listed being coach of a sport in her free time or volunteering with something that meets regularly and does events monthly then she’d have more schedule conflicts than someone who doesn’t. The fact its on her resume gives it reason to be considered by potential employers.

  6. Comrade Kevin
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    I think we need to take into account child custody, since as you point out, it’s implied that children are the sole domain of women. The system as set up almost always grants full, if not whole custody to mothers instead of fathers. The only means by which fathers are granted equal custody rights is if the mother is rendered severely unfit, which is quite rare.
    This is where sexism, societal expectation, and gender roles intersect. The implication is still that mothers will be less productive workers because their efficiency will be compromised by the presence of children.

  7. Steven
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like the imaginary woman had priorities that would come before work she and would be less willing to manipulate her schedule (work late, switch shifts, weekends, etc) based on the needs of her workplace despite whatever incentives (overtime, merit pay) were in place.

  8. uberhausfrau
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    so then it’s ok to deny someone a job they would be able to perform during regular business hours because of potential problems over potential extra-hour tasks?

  9. Jamie
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    “The problem with the companion article’s analysis is that it does the issue of gender equality a disservice because it implies that children belong to women, and women alone. Figuring in how fathers also fare in the labor force supports the fact that mothers are marginalized, but they are marginalized because they are women.”
    I have to say that I believe you are actually restating the quote from the article in a different way. I believe the primary article stated this poorly, but that the issue of motherhood – as opposed to fatherhood, etc – is the primary issue. I have a friend who argued that paying women less money IS fair because it’s statistically the case that the investment in women in business/corporate world is less likely to be returned because they DO drop out of the market place in their 30s/40s and only some even attempt to return to the same field, where, as we see above, they are shunned.
    I think that this is not necessarily an issue of sexism in the work place, but rather a symptom of our cultural values of parenting. Women can get into the workforce, but there are still very important decisions to be made about how to raise a family once the decision to start one has been reached, and because of our cultural expectations men simply do not leave the workforce as often, even when they are making LESS money than the woman. I don’t even think it’s about ineffectiveness and presence of children, because if that were the case, fathers would be affected also – I think it’s more about the fact that women are EXPECTED to carry this burden and that when women make the decision to go back, they wish to step back into an equal role as when they left which is rarely granted since they’ve been away from the job for so long.
    There are so many issues playing into the matter here, in other words, that simply saying it’s sexism doesn’t actually get us anywhere. We have to examine these serious societal issues about the gender expectations of families and the tragically high divorce rate wherein the ‘problem’ of working mothers is compounded by the usually primary custody of the mother and other issues. It’s incredibly more complicated than all that.

  10. Sleepy
    Posted January 6, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    How is “women being expected to carry the burden of parenthood” not sexism?

  11. Steven
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Yes.
    Especially when faced with an applicant that is willing to do extra at work.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Being a Working Mother « Speaker's Corner on August 4, 2010 at 11:33 am

    [...] I think this is a really common perception of how the business/working world works in relation to those with kids and those without.  I have had this conversation with friends of mine.  The truth, though, is that, again, this is not about child-plus people versus people without kids.  This is a sexist and gendered problem, where men with children are favored above and beyond, while women with children, in particular, are at a major disadvantage, though men, no matter what, outstrip women in the business world (see this recent Feministing post). [...]

  2. [...] are at a major disadvantage, though men, no matter what, outstrip women in the business world (see this recent Feministing post). This certainly comes from a very old idea about the living wage, in which businesses were [...]

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