Women workers face “motherhood penalty”

by Janie Smith05 Sep 2014
Motherhood is an important part of many women’s lives, but the decision to have children can create a negative impact on a woman’s lifetime earnings, according to Diversity Council Australia.

CEO Lisa Annese said the council had investigated local and international research which highlighted a growing body of evidence about the “motherhood penalty”.

It found that raising children accounted for a 17% loss in lifetime wages for women, with the kind of work many mothers undertook not only being lower paid than the work they did prior to having children, but also frequently not reflecting their abilities, education or work experience.

Annese told HC that it was important for organisations to make sure that when women returned to work, they were able to come back to mainstream, flexible roles that continued their career paths, rather than being stuck in part-time positions.

“Make sure you have mainstreamed flexibility in your organisation so people can take time. It could be for any particular reason. But when you come back, your career hasn’t been adversely affected.

“There are ways in which organisations can create fairer systems for women to re-enter the workplace.”

Women were most affected because they tended to be the primary carers, but Annese said that the research showed that men were just as keen to take a more flexible approach to work when they had young children, but “the knowledge of what would happen to their career was so real to them that they feared asking for it”.

“If men were the primary carers, we would see a fatherhood penalty here instead.”

She said there were some aspects of inequality that were gender-related, like pregnancy discrimination, but the motherhood penalty could be transposed to anyone who became a primary carer and then tried to come back to the workplace in a flexible way.

Annese said she was dismayed by the widening gender pay gap, which is at its highest point in 30 years at 18.2%.

“It’s really shocking. It shouldn’t be this way. There are a lot people working in the diversity industry and a lot of committed people working within corporate Australia and within government to try to make sure it doesn’t happen, but alas, it’s still happening. The fact that is has regressed is really disappointing.” 


  • by caca 5/09/2014 2:43:49 PM

    Something to take into account is the mother's willingness to get back into the swing of work.
    This wasn't always the case but I have found that in the last 2 instances I've dealt with the mothers were already not keeping their skills up to date and although wanted to keep the level/title/pay that they left on they were unwilling to be responsible for the same work(which in turn would either need to be shifted to someone else and cause an issue or add headcount which in most cases is not granted).
    Flexibility is a great idea and I believe definitely the best path however those returning from maternity leave cannot expect to shift majority of the responsibilities without creating issues and then in turn being seen as no longer 'career minded'. It's a tough balance to keep.

  • by Kathy Dodd 6/09/2014 5:19:34 AM

    This situation is by no means new. I took a job break to have my two children in 1983. I left a highly paid managerial role in communications and took various part time jobs until I returned to full time work in 1991. It took me 4 years to reach my previous salary level as I had to find work in a different industry and different country. I found that changing my career path was the only way to achieve my goals but even then the male salaries proved to be at least $20k more annually in most industries at the manager level. I could write a book about the real discrimination around male/female salaries and careers in Australia. It will not end until women become more assertive around career breaks and salaries and men support this.

  • by Jane 9/09/2014 4:16:22 PM

    Not to mention the lesser superannuation received by the mothers (generalisation) in taking time off work and then more often than not working part time while children are young.......try being a single mum and staring down the barrel of a measly super fund because you are daring to try to juggle being a part time professional at the same time as being a full time mum (which, by the way, I wouldn't change for anything!). I appreciate super is paid on $$ earned, but with females earning less than men generally, and then taking the time off to raise children, the super fund sure does take a beating in comparison to my male equivalents!

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