By Courtney Connley
Reshma Saujani is tired of all the talk and no action when it comes to creating workplaces that are equitable for mothers. As an entrepreneur, activist, and mom of two, Saujani knows first-hand how detrimental the motherhood penalty, wage gap, and gender bias can be on a woman’s career. That’s why, in order to move the needle forward on gender equity, she says it’s critical that we “commit to addressing anti-mom bias [at work].”
“I think, you know, anti-mom bias is one of the biggest open secrets in the workplace,” says Saujani, who created the Marshall Plan for Moms movement to help center working mothers in the economic recovery from the pandemic. “We know that the pay gap exists because of the pay gap between mothers and fathers, or mothers and women who don't have children. And, even as we see what happened through COVID, the women that were being pushed out of the workplace were mothers.”
Currently, U.S. working moms are paid $0.58 for every dollar paid to dads. For mothers working full-time year-round, this equals a loss of roughly $17,000 annually, with mothers of color losing even more, according to the National Women’s Law Center. To put the bias into further context, men who become parents receive a 6% salary increase while women make 4% less for every child they have.
In honor of Moms’ Equal Pay Day, Chief spoke to the Girls Who Code Founder and bestselling author Reshma Saujani about why now more than ever we need a workplace reckoning that forces leaders to rethink the structure of work through the lens of who it does and does not benefit.
On the Fight for Women’s Rights
“I say it's a war on mothers because when you look at what's happening with the restrictions around abortion rights, that's all about motherhood. You know, nearly six out of 10 women who get abortions are mothers. Half of them have two or more children and they're making an economic decision because we now live in a country that has forced birth without affordable childcare, without paid leave, and with a pay gap for moms.”
On the Need for a Workplace Reckoning
“I think in many ways we're looking to success as reentry into the workplace. Even our president has been like, Oh look, women are actually now in the workplace at the same rate that they were prior to COVID. But the question is, to what expense are they returning to the workplace? Because we know that a lot of women in the workplace are single moms and so they have to work. And for many women of color, they have to work, but at what cost is it coming to them at?
“You know, if you look at the pay gap for Black and brown women, the motherhood wage penalty has increased. So I don't think any real changes have been made that have directly addressed this issue. Why do we discriminate against moms and moms of color in the workplace? What is it that's part of our culture? What is it about the way that we've designed workplaces that basically make it harder for women and for women of color, to both have a job and be a mom? I don't think we've had that reckoning yet.”
On the Lack of Progress
“We just have not, I think in many ways, looked at what's happened after the pandemic and said, Well, women are in a crisis and what are we actually doing to support them? How are we changing? What policies are we changing to really have a fighting shot at getting to equality? I don't see that change being made. Companies are now, after the pandemic, reducing the amount of paid leave benefits that they have and half the daycare centers are still shut down. Black women have not regained where they were in terms of jobs pre-pandemic. Yet, no one's talking about that. And, you know, many of the women whose jobs were automated during the pandemic were in retail, healthcare, and education. These are women that need to quite frankly be re-trained for the 21st century economy and that's not happening. I don't see any federal retraining programs. So a lot of these things are so blatantly obvious. And, we still don't have reproductive rights, which is fundamental to having autonomy over your body and having autonomy over your economic vitality.”
On Why Leaders Should Design Policies With Single Moms in Mind
“I think companies should be offering more paid leave benefits rather than reducing them. I think every single company should be offering some sort of childcare benefit because childcare should quite frankly be universal in our country. And I think we shouldn't be fighting against flexibility, but offering more flexibility and making sure that as women take advantage of remote work, they're not getting penalized for it in terms of promotion and salary. So I think we have to ask ourselves, How do you design a workplace for a single mom? Maybe a mother of color? Because if you can design it to make her successful you'll design it to make everyone successful. And I don't think that we've had a real commitment towards changing what workplaces look like yet.”
On the Importance of Allyship
“It's like if you had more dads out there taking paid leave then you probably wouldn't have a motherhood penalty and a fatherhood premium. You know, if you had more dads, non-binary, trans, and childless people going into an interview and saying, ‘What are your childcare benefits? What are your paid leave benefits?’ Even if you are not going to benefit from it, that benefit is a signal of the value that the company takes in its people.”
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