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Minimizing the “mommy penalty”

February 6, 2012

Katherine Bowers of Workingmom.com  posted a blog titled, Minimizing the Mommy Penalty -Is your bundle of joy a bane to your paycheck?  highlighting the realities of women taking major blows to their paycheck once they have children.

“Researchers generally find that moms earn lower hourly wages than women who are not moms,” says Kate Krause, professor of economics with the University of New Mexico. That’s in addition to the existing “gender penalty,” which finds women still earning only 75 cents for every dollar a man earns.

To minimize the “mommy penalty,” as Bowers calls it, she pulled experts’ recommendations and the following strategies:

Address it: The first step is knowledge, says Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist who co-authored the 2010 study “The Career Cost of Family.” Before going on maternity leave, Goldin advises women to ask: “Are there large penalties for taking time off? Is there substantial loss in income for part-time work?” Alternately, she says, see if your employer has a division or function that’s more suitable for flexibility, while allowing you to advance.

Prove yourself first: Make yourself invaluable—service important clients, be someone’s right hand, connect yourself with the core mission— before you have children. Employers recognize that it’s a huge competitive advantage to keep proven talent rather than recruit someone new. “Women who have children and come back to the same employer after a period of leave have much lower or no penalty, whereas those who stay out for a period of time and then start someplace new have the largest penalties,” says Jane Waldfogel, professor of social work and public affairs at Columbia University. Waldfogel has authored numerous studies on women’s earnings and parenthood.

Come back when you’re ready: There isn’t a magic age (a.k.a. kindergarten) when work-family conflict resolve itself for working mothers (or fathers, for that matter). “Waiting until your child is older to return to work just delays the penalty; it doesn’t eliminate it,” says Krause. Research has shown that moms take the wage hit immediately. Jumping back in as soon as you’re ready gives you more time to rebuild.

Think M.D. not MBA: Some professions penalize women a lot—and others are relatively forgiving. “The penalty for ‘any job interruption’ is substantial for MBAs,” writes Goldin in “The Career Cost of Family” which compares how MBAs, MDs and lawyers fare in terms of wages and parenthood. (Women MBAs with children, for instance, saw their pay drop 41 percent relative to male MBA earnings.) By comparison, women doctors across many specialties saw a smaller loss (16 percent versus men) and were more able to pick up professionally where they left off following a break to raise children.

To read Bowers’ full article, click here

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