Is the ‘maternal wall’ keeping women from the C-suite?

The gendered assumption that working mothers have limited commitment is holding many female executives back

Is the ‘maternal wall’ keeping women from the C-suite?
Recent research showed that only 9% of companies in APAC have a female CEO and 30% do not have any female board members.

Many attribute this to damaging gender stereotypes that women still face today, one of which is the existence of a ‘maternal wall’.

“The ‘maternal wall’ is a bias against working mothers … with the assumption that you can’t have it all,” said Mira Gajraj Mohan, regional practice director for talent management & organisational alignment at Willis Towers Watson.

However, she said, this also affects working women without children because people assume that they will eventually become mothers. 

“There are certain cultural assumptions people make about working mothers. For example, expecting lower commitment from them because of family obligations,” she said.

“I have also heard senior leaders ask this, ‘how old are your kids’, ‘who’s going to take care of them’. Some will even say, ‘She’s just had a child, she won’t be able to take on so and so project.’”

She also talked about how some companies are reluctant to offer leadership roles that involve relocation to women because of the gendered assumption that women cannot uproot their families. 

“We create fewer opportunities based on the assumptions that we make,” said Gajraj Mohan, adding that there is no greater predictor of inequality than motherhood. 

These assumptions, she said, are some contributors as to why women get passed up for leadership roles.

While flexibility in the workplace such as providing access to daycare or having adequate parental leave policies is a big help to working mothers, Gajraj Mohan also urged mid-level women executives to be clear in their intentions.

“Be proactive with your communications. Be vocal and make your career goals known and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need,” she advised.

Related stories:

How HR can succeed in the corporate boardroom

Are you ready for the C-suite?

How to achieve gender balance in the workforce

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