Working Mothers Are Held To A Higher Standard Than Their Childless Peers

Ever since women decided to step into the workplace, we’ve been hearing about their struggle to balance their household duties with their job responsibilities. Even now in 2012, we’re debating whether working mothers can compete in high-intensity corporate environments. We’re talking about the challenges that women face when they choose to pursue their career and have a family. The fact that working moms have to take care of the kids’ and bosses’ needs is an accepted societal truth.

However, the more we discuss the stress caused by work life balance, the more we invite our bosses to hold us to a higher standard. By acknowledging our weakness, we bring it to our supervisor’s attention and allow them to judge us before our home commitments even become an issue. A 2009 study in the Academy of Management Journal showed that even in a company where men felt more pressure to juggle their job responsibilities and home life, the management team assumed women were having a harder time. Based on this assumption, bosses viewed their female employees as less suitable for promotions and increased responsibility.

Acknowledging the dilemma than moms face helps women discuss their troubles and brainstorm solutions. It gives all females realistic expectations of working motherhood, which helps us prepare for the juggle ahead. I think most of us would agree that discussing the pressures involved in being an ambitious employee and a caring mother is important.

But these discussions can also lead to unfair prejudice in the workplace.

I know, I never thought I would type those words either. I’ve always advocated for more conversation about working motherhood as a way for all of us to address the challenges we face. However, the ladies at Jezebel recently made a comment that got me thinking. They were discussing recent research that disproved the theory that moms needs to take more time off to care for sick kids or attend school conferences. So why is there so much anecdotal evidence to the contrary? Anna North says that it’s confirmation bias, “employers just assume moms will be shitty workers, and every time they need time off for any reason, their preconceived notions are confirmed.”

The more I think about the way confirmation bias plays out, the more it makes sense. Confirmation bias helps reinforce all kinds of stereotypes. If you believe that young white men are all pigs, then every time you hear a lewd comment from a young Caucasian guy, your prejudice is confirmed. You feel like you have proof, even though you might be ignoring dozens of men who don’t display asshole-ish tendencies. (I thought I would talk about stereotyping young Caucasian men because they must always feel left out of these discussions.)

And if you’re still doubting the question of discrimination against mothers in the workplace, here’s some chilling testimony from the Center for WorkLife Law given at Equal Employment Opportunity Commission meeting last week.

“Maternal wall bias against mothers is an order of magnitude larger than glass ceiling bias against women in general. The most famous study found that when subjects were given identical resumes, one but not the other a mother, the mother was 79% less likely to be hired, 100% less likely to be  promoted, offered an average of $11,000 less in salary, and held to higher performance and punctuality standards.”

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