What's the strongest gender bias?

When mothers, or women who want to be mothers, are viewed as unwilling or unable to be good employees.

Prioritizing childcare over career is a personal choice and not a general practice. 

Maternal bias happens when motherhood triggers the automatic assumption that women care any less about their careers than men do. We judge mothers in the workplace, because we assume that they won’t be committed to their jobs once they have a family. Studies display that maternal bias is the strongest type of gender bias in the workplace.

  • When the terminology ‘PTA Coordinator’ is added to a women’s CV, she is 79% less likely to be hired
  • Additionally, when ‘PTA Coordinator’ is added to a women’s CV, she is 50% less likely to be promoted internally
  • When changing roles, women with children are offered £11,000 less in salary than their male competitors

Men face paternal pushback too, with studies revealing that fathers who take time out of work for family matters receive lower performance ratings than mothers who take time out.

What you can do: 

If someone on your team says that a woman may not be a good choice for a high-profile project because she just had a baby, remind them that this could be a career-changing project for whoever gets it, so it’s better to let the new mom decide for herself whether or not she wants to take it on, said  LeanIn.Org—an organization that helps women achieve their ambitions and create a more equal world.

Miriam Grobman, contributor from Forbes suggested some things that managers could do better when managing mothers or mothers-to-be:

Don’t make assumptions based on your personal life. Many men in top roles have stay-at-home wives, who had given up their careers to dedicate their time to family. Prioritizing childcare over career is a personal choice and not a general practice. If your spouse, mother or even past employee made this kind of choice, it doesn’t mean that your current employee has the same preferences. She might be a single mother, living in a dual-career household or the main breadwinner with a stay-at-home partner. Don’t assume you know mothers’ future goals and ambitions simply because they have children. Ask them instead.

Be proactive about offering opportunities for professional growth. Maternal bias works both ways. Some mothers may be afraid to ask for new opportunities or assume that they won’t get them. They often feel guilty about taking the time off during maternity leave and work extra hard to compensate for the time lost. They also get constant mixed messages from society about where their priorities should lie. Sometimes, all they need is the extra confidence boost to show them that you see them as a valuable employee and believe in their potential for growth.

Think long term. For many mothers (and fathers), the first few months are extremely difficult. They have to learn a whole new set of skills, their routine is completely disrupted, they suffer from lack of sleep and also need to figure out childcare. It’s easy to dismiss the employee as uncommitted. But if she has always been a high performer, give her some time to breathe. Offer short term flexibility to work from home or on a reduced schedule. It will pay off handsomely in the long run. She will come back much more motivated, committed and grateful for the opportunity.

What Should Working Moms Do In The Meantime?

While managers continue to evolve, Grobman's advice for career-oriented mothers is to be proactive at communicating interest in new opportunities and career growth and to not leave space for their bosses to make assumptions in the absence of information.

If things get tough, manage the short term (negotiate more flexibility, get help at home, seek advice from those who have been there, consider therapy, etc.), but think about the long term. While people may try to assign less important work to you, protect your career prospects. Think about how to spend the time you have at work more strategically in terms of who you work for and what kind of projects you take on, shared Grobman.

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