Motherhood Tax: The Effect On Business and The Economy

Motherhood Tax (otherwise known as the “The Motherhood Penalty) is a highly discussed issue that is raised globally. It refers to the true cost of trying to balance both parenting and pursuing a career, where being great at both can seem mutually exclusive.

In the past, we have seen this phenomenon cause women to be paid less than men, a 4% reduction per child to be exact. It also doesn’t seem to be influenced on whether the mum has any time off but more focused on the idea that women remain the main caregivers for their children.

Whilst this is a discussion that has been had time and time again, usually the missing part is the wider effect of this penalty to business and the economy.

An Educated Valuable Resource

It is a well documented fact that globally, most countries are facing a skills shortage where ultimately they have more job opportunities than they do candidates.

The UK has reported an unemployment rate of 3.5% which is the lowest it has been for over 50 years. This is closely followed by a rate of 3.6% in the USA and 5.1% in Canada.

Whilst this is great news for the global economy, which is keen to bounce back after the pandemic, it leaves many businesses fighting for top talent or struggling to adequately fill vacancies at all.

An aspect, often overlooked, is that women are a great pool of candidates to fill this gap. A recent study found that they are typically more educated than men with around 36% of women aged 25-34 (the millennial generation) hold a bachelors degree or higher compared to 28% of men.

Whilst working mums are an active part of the business environment, 32% of the overall workforce, they still feel overlooked. According to Forbes, the “leaky pipeline” of women who were leaving due to the layering of their roles and lack of support from society has been mostly ignored due to a “substantial male workforce to make up the delta”.

Simply put, businesses felt that they had no reason to stop women leaving but now, they are realising that they are needed.

We also no longer have this male workforce as we did before and employers are starting to notice that women, especially women in the “motherhood years”, are an untapped and valuable resource.

The Key To The Great Resignation

Since the pandemic, working life has changed. Hybrid flexible working has become ‘the new norm’ and static rigid work schedules are becoming few and far between. This has been reflected in a change in behaviour for working mums with only 18% now requiring more flexibility (this is in comparison to 56% officially changing their work status pre pandemic).

Also, in a recent survey, 47% of mums contribute more than half of the household income. On top of this, mums are still seen as the primary caregiver in the family with 33% of married working mums identify themselves as the sole care provider.

Unfortunately, we are now seeing more women leave the business world. They are reporting less hours sleep, more stress and no time to take care of themselves due to the pressure to provide. They are also facing issues such as affordable childcare, parental leave and closing the gender pay gap.

Support For Working Mothers

Women, whilst working for equality, are still being pushed to their breaking points. They are existing within a workforce that wasn’t structured to support them. Businesses fear the perceived threat of juggling both worlds and contributes towards the growing gap.

Whilst there are larger scaled developments that need to happen to close this gap, there are also smaller changes that can be made. These can include:

  • Don’t grow an environment that idolises burnout but encourage breaks. All employees are more productive when rested but none more so than a working mum.
  • Provide great role models at the top. Whether the CEO leaves early to do the school run or there is further representation of mothers in leadership, people respond.
  • Be mindful of the timing of your communication. A 7pm email marked ‘urgent’ may not seem like a huge issue but that might be in the middle of bedtime for a working mum.
  • Support Dad’s input in to the family life. They are important in their children’s life too and ensuring that you treat them fairly in comparison to mums helps them feel a balance in the responsibility.

The difficulty in developing an inclusive environment is that each person is different and mothers are no exception. There isn’t a one size fits all approach that will encompass everyone’s needs but that is where business leaders should start – by listening.

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