Additional feedback from attorneys about these applicants revealed that they assumed these equally qualified women, who did not yet even have a fake family, would be less committed to their careers for family reasons and so did not see as much point in making an investment in nurturing their law careers with employment offers.
Finally, another study asked actual Human Resources managers to review the resumes of fictional job candidates and indicate the starting wage that would be adequate for the candidates. All else equal about the resumes, the recruiters assigned lower wages to mothers than to nonmothers.
Discrimination is not the only reason that mothers are paid less than all others. Mothers on average tend to work fewer hours and sacrifice pay for the advantage of having jobs with more flexible work schedules.
But do our workplaces have to be organized in such a way that it is mothers, and not fathers, who are penalized or need to make employment sacrifices for being a parent? Employers benefit from having employees with a wide variety of perspectives and talents to bring to challenging company issues. What can be done to better include working mothers?
One idea is to tie pay more to tasks that are completed rather than the hours worked, i.e. “face time” at work. Mothers could then be paid equally to get the same tasks done but in less time. But more importantly, paid leave policies need to be gender neutral, rather than really being meant only for mothers to use. If fathers and childless workers take advantage of these policies as often as do mothers, then employers would have no reason to view mothers with extra caution.
In addition to the $23.1 billion that families are spending to honor mothers, the best gift of all would be ensuring that mothers can earn equal pay and have equal labor market opportunities.
Commentary by E. Anne York, professor of economics at the School of Business at Meredith College, a women’s institution in Raleigh, N.C.
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