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The Fight for Equal Pay: Mothers and Others

Updated: Feb 28, 2021

“Equal pay for equal work.” This has become the motto of women who have been marching for years to achieve the same level of respect that men enjoy. In today’s world, people everywhere continue to march for women’s equality. It’s an issue that’s close to me and our organization. However, as time goes on, it seems as if progress hasn’t been made. In particular, women’s participation continues to lack in STEM fields and in positions of power. Now you may ask, why? Didn’t women get the vote 100 years ago, and haven’t we as a country progressed since then? While the answer to both of those questions is yes, women and men continue to face different social expectations, which results in the hindrance of women’s progress.

In our society, women are seen as the primary caregivers, and men are seen as the breadwinners. Let’s start with a basic example. Let’s take a husband and wife, both of whom are lawyers at a firm. They decide they would like to have children. The woman is most likely going to be the partner that has to sacrifice her job in order to take care of the child, while the man remains at work. Several years later, while the woman is working part-time or even not at all, the man continues his work and slowly begins to rise in the hierarchy at the firm. Eventually, the man becomes a partner at the firm whereas the woman has fallen off the corporate ladder completely. This disparity further increases the difference in the wages that either person receives. The expectation that women need to be the primary caregivers is one of the main factors that keeps this wage gap open.

Let us also consider the motherhood penalty, which makes up about 25% of the wage gap. According to research done at the Harvard Kennedy School, mothers are 6 times less likely than childless women and 3.35 times less likely than childless men to be recommended for hire. The issue starts with women applying for jobs. Most women are overlooked for jobs for which they have the qualifications, simply due to the fact that they may have children in the future. Now, one might raise the question: didn’t these women choose to have their children and leave work? Although women do make the decision to stay at home and take care of their children, it doesn’t mean that they wanted to perpetually freeze their careers. In many cases, the ‘choice’ not to return to work isn’t much of a choice at all.

In fact, the main reason that some women stop working after having children is due to the lack of proper maternity leave given by their employer. The lack of proper maternity leave results in 2 issues. First, women aren’t given enough maternity leave, and therefore instead of going back to work, they choose to stay at home and take care of their children. In the second situation, women have to go back to work sooner than expected in order to be able to provide for their children. Sadly, many women have returned back to work only a few weeks after the birth of their child for fear of not being able to make enough money to pay the bills. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 16% of private industry workers had access to paid maternity leave, whereas 88% had access to unpaid maternity leave. As a country, we don’t have universal maternity leave despite being so well-developed. We pride ourselves on being world leaders, however how can we be world leaders if almost 50% of the population’s voice isn’t heard? If we were able to support both mothers and nonmothers in their endeavors then the issue with the wage gap would slowly resolve itself as it has in many other countries.