The Motherhood Penalty and The Gender Gap in Tech

According to new statistics from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, the global gender gap in various industries, as well as tech, is not expected to close until 2120. Yet it seems like more and more organisations are working to narrow the gender gap in tech by encouraging women to apply for tech roles and working towards a workplace culture that’s gender diverse. So why is it that we’re still looking at the potential of 100 years of gender imparity? 

the motherhood penalty

If organisations are doing everything in their power to attract more women in tech, perhaps the problem isn’t women not wanting to work in tech, but women struggling to obtain promotions to work their way up to more senior leadership positions in tech. Only 5% of leadership positions in tech in the UK are held by women, the gender gap in tech is not as simple as employing more women in tech, it’s also about promoting more women already in tech into senior leadership roles. When you search for the reasons why women are less likely than men to be in a senior role in tech, you are pointed towards the gender gap being sustained by the motherhood penalty.  

What is the motherhood penalty? 

The motherhood penalty is a term used by sociologists to describe socioeconomic disadvantages in earnings and perceived professional competence for working mothers. There’s ample evidence to demonstrate how real the motherhood penalty is, not only in the UK but globally. Looking at the fall in earnings for working mothers, statistics consistently show this to be around a 4-5% drop, and that’s per child. What’s more, it has also been found that there is a blunt contrast between how having children impacts women’s career prospects compared to men. Men who have children benefit from a fatherhood bonus where they are more likely to land a higher paying job, whereas women seem to have to almost prove their ability to balance their commitment to their career and children.

It’s also been found that even women who don’t have children but are of childbearing age can be subject to the motherhood penalty. In a report by RBC last year it was revealed that men between the ages of 25 – 29 are more likely to be offered management positions than women of the same age. Begging the question of whether this imbalance of opportunity has something to do with an ingrained cultural fear of hiring women of child-bearing age because there’s always a chance a lengthy maternity leave period could be around the corner.

What can be done to level the playing field? 

A report conducted by adeva found that around 56% of women in tech leave their careers at the midway point, and the main factor isn’t that they aren’t happy in their jobs. The gender pay gap and lack of opportunities for women compared to men is the biggest contributing factor for women leaving their careers in tech.

To truly combat the gender pay gap in tech, more needs to be done to enable women to progress into leadership roles, because that’s where the heart of the pay gap issue lies. At the moment it’s almost as though the motherhood penalty and fatherhood bonus are blocking gender equality in pay and representation in the technology industry.

So what can be done to level the playing field between women and men with children in tech? 

1. Shared Parental Leave 

One way to level the playing field is to embrace Shared Parental Leave, and encourage a culture whereby it is viewed as the norm, and where men and women feel comfortable to take it up as an option. Shared Parental Leave was introduced in 2015. It enables men and women to share the child care responsibility by allowing them to split up to 12 months leave between them. In theory, it sounds like a positive and progressive move for working mums and dads. However, since it was introduced just 1 in 10 new fathers have taken up the option, even though when surveyed, 85% of fathers said they wished they had taken more time off to look after their children. The cultural pressures placed on fathers to return to work quickly rather than considering Shared Parental Leave is the biggest factor preventing a bigger take up of Shared Parental Leave.

2. Flexible working for parents 

In the same survey, 88% of fathers said that flexible working would help them in terms of sharing childcare responsibilities. Couple this with recent statistics from the Women in Tech Survey, whereby the number one factor for attracting more women to remain in tech was the option for flexible working, it seems conclusive that for the current and upcoming generation of new parents, flexible working and joint childcare is a solution paving the way to gender parity. More flexible and remote working arrangements may mean that for women more senior jobs in tech will become real and workable options; enabling women to boost their earnings and reduce the gender pay gap in tech.