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Study: Moms with Straight As Get Same Leadership Opportunities As Dads Who Failed

Woman being ignored by her boss

New research proves academic achievements don’t stand a chance against the ‘motherhood penalty.’

Despite outperforming men since high school, women, and moms specifically, are still earning less and receiving less leadership opportunities.

Men systematically dodging hurdles that act as roadblocks for women isn’t new. But a recent study shows that even when moms academically outperformed dads by a lot, it still didn’t help them in the long run professionally.

According to research in Social Forces entitled “The Under-Utilization of Women’s Talent: Academic Achievement and Future Leadership Positions,” moms who received straight-A grades in high school had a fraction of the supervisees as dads did down the road.

The study analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 of thousands of baby boomers over the course of 40 years to identify the number of people they each managed during their early- to mid-careers. When looking at the raw data, those with higher high school GPAs tended to manage more people later in life, with men averaging two or three more people than women. But when researchers looked at parents specifically, the gap was astonishing.

Of parents who earned 4.0 GPAs in high school, dads managed nearly five times as many people as moms did. Further, 4.0 moms had as many supervisees as dads who had failing grades in high school. Let that sink in.

Sadly, this isn’t entirely surprising. You might be familiar with the “motherhood penalty,” a term coined by sociologists to describe the notion that moms earn less for every child they have and are viewed as less competent than female colleagues who don’t have any kids. Specifically, moms earn about 3 percent less per child than their childless female counterparts. Sociologists have said for decades that moms face bias in the workplace–and this study is just one more example.

“Our work clearly highlights the number of structural and organizational barriers that mothers face in attaining leadership roles. It also highlights perhaps the lack of barriers that many men experience when rising through corporate ranks,” says Dr. Jill E. Yavorsky, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sociology and organizational science at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte and one of the authors of the study. “Women’s, and specifically mother’s, talent is being vastly under-utilized within workplace organizations.”

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis might have exacerbated these existing inequities between moms and dads, Dr. Yavorsky says. “The pandemic has hit women’s employment and productivity more severely than men’s, particularly among parents,” she says. “This means that women are losing valuable time in the labor market that may compromise their future careers, wages or upward mobility.”

With women–moms specifically–being forced out of the workforce at four times the rate of men, these findings could mean dire consequences for the future of working motherhood. Moms are already earning less and receiving fewer leadership opportunities than our male counterparts–so when hundreds of thousands of us try to re-enter the workforce and are penalized for our career breaks, women will earn even less, manage fewer employees, and hold fewer leadership positions, despite outperforming men from day one. And it’s on employers to help close that gap.

Dr. Yavorsky suggested companies create and implement more equitable promoting and hiring policies, help subsidize the cost of childcare, provide flexible work opportunities, create a culture that supports people having a life outside of work and create pathways from female-dominated jobs to management. Otherwise, the pandemic will have lasting effects on working women’s progress.

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New research proves academic achievements don’t stand a chance against the ‘motherhood penalty.’

Despite outperforming men since high school, women, and moms specifically, are still earning less and receiving less leadership opportunities.

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