Everyone had an opinion about why the U.S. birth rate has reached its lowest level in 30 years—and has fallen below the “replacement” level needed to sustain the population—as the CDC revealed in a a report last week. Some people blame economic factors, some cite social influences, and some say people are just having less sex. But as HuffPost points out, there’s little talk—if any—about how “most women in the U.S., even before they get pregnant, know how little social support exists for them as mothers.”
Women at all income levels are punished for becoming mothers, HuffPost asserts. Low-income women can sink into poverty. High-income women can miss promotions and pay raises. And the evidence of this lack of social support is both anecdotal and statistical. For example, 88 percent of U.S. workers get no paid family leave, according to the Department of Labor; and 1 in 4 new mothers returned to work within two weeks of having a baby, per a 2015 analysis of Department of Labor data. Meanwhile, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth says mothers earn 71 percent of what fathers make, a disparity even worse than the general gender wage gap.
HuffPost also profiles a woman who says she was docked one “point” each time she had to go to a doctor or each time she was late because of morning sickness during her pregnancy. She made it through to her maternity leave, but her boss kept nagging her to come back, and when she finally did, she was fired. “It was devastating,” she says. “I just felt shattered. I just saw so much potential with that company.”
Meanwhile, other women say their law firms put them on the “mommy track,” subjecting them to lower salaries, fewer promotions, and less glamour work. According to a yet-unpublished paper by economists at Wellesley College and the U.S. Naval Academy, female lawyers are 16 percent less likely than their male counterparts to have a child before finding out if they made partner. And mothers who do make partner have to surmount a higher “promotion threshold” than their male counterparts—in yet another example of the maternal wall. “They expect women to prove themselves even more relative to a man,” study co-author Nayoung Rim observed.
All of this bias, stigma, and discrimination means women have to plot their futures with their hands tied. “To the extent that some women would want to be mothers if it was financially viable, but don’t want to risk good careers or poverty, that’s not a free choice,” Elizabeth Oltmans Ananat, an associate professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, told HuffPost. “Women are painted into a corner.”
At Werk, we know career and caregiving shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Structured flexibility helps employees keep their work compatible with their life, and the flex types of our Flexiverse respond to each employee’s unique needs. The first woman profiled could have benefited from MicroAgility™ for her doctor appointments and morning sickness, for example—so that she could keep life’s little interruptions from becoming big disruptions. And the lawyers might have liked to use PartTime—to work a reduced schedule while staying on an advancement track. We at Werk know that mothers can be just as ambitious as anyone else. It’s time to allow them the chance to show it.