Work, Career, Now + Beyond

How a lack of childcare in the workplace holds women back professionally

Having children does not make women bad employees.

There’s no arguing the fact that women face discrimination across many aspects of their work life. One doesn’t need to look beyond the presence of the wage gap to support the said statement. Yet the wage gap is one drop in the biased bucket. Another avenue through which we face discrimination is the childcare or motherhood penalty.

A term coined by sociologists, the motherhood penalty refers to the systematic disadvantages that mothers suffer in the workplace in terms of pay, perceived competence, and benefits extended to employees without children. This creates yet another wage gap which translates as so: men > women without children > mothers.

The motherhood penalty

Women struggle for fair compensation as it is. Society then judges our ambitions harshly as well, labeling it as aggressive. So to learn that childcare puts us at yet another disadvantage is a harsh, but not shocking, truth. Especially considering that opposite the motherhood penalty stands the fatherhood bonus.

The same system which penalizes women for becoming mothers lauds men. They are not only more likely to be hired but paid more too because the “family man” label is immediately connected to being of good character.

This disparity exists because society automatically places the responsibility of childcare on mothers and the role of providing on fathers. This isn’t even a point of contention. And because of this, hiring managers would rather hire men instead because they’re either fathers or men who are not tied to at-home familial responsibilities.

As for a woman, once she becomes a mother, her workplace managers often assume her dedication to her work wavers. Because of this, mothers’ job-site evaluations often feature phrases like “less dependable”, “less authoritative”, and “less committed”.

Childcare is a luxury

Data released in 2017 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that childcare is one of the biggest barriers to women not only entering the workforce but taking on more work hours as well. The data also showed that women rate the issue of childcare higher than men do. This just proves how imbalanced the expected parental responsibilities are within our society. 

On top of that, the Pew Research Center found that women are not only more likely to adjust their career paths for family life than men but also more likely to pass up promotions which would take them away from their family life.

Yes, one can argue, that parents ought to invest in childcare and then all the worries will fade away. However, quality childcare is fudging expensive. It is an amenity which has proven to rival college tuition fees. It also isn’t easy to find a convenient place – nearby work or home. This is also a moot option for low-income families or families who don’t have good local options.

And when an emergency situation arises (nanny calls in sick or the childcare center is closed for some reason), parents (read: mothers) are often forced to miss work which not only impacts their work but their reputation in the long run. 

The way to remedy this, then, is simple. Workplaces need to introduce on-site childcare. It’s definitely doable.

A change in culture

The availability of childcare in one’s workplace will not only be of advantage to the employee but the employer as well. Employees will be more likely to return to work quicker and will have the incentive to remain with the company. And on a personal note, parents will also have peace of mind, knowing their child/children are nearby which can actually increase productivity. 

Employers will also benefit from using their on-site childcare amenities as a recruiting tool to attract talent.

Introducing on-site childcare, though, is just one step in increasing women’s workforce participation. What is actually required to make a lasting difference is a change in culture.

A culture which sees men consider the same childcare responsibilities as women. One which sees the abolishment of the motherhood penalty and the fatherhood bonus. One which sees workplaces treat their employees equally, without taking into consideration a person’s sex, family size, orientation, and a host of other issues, save their qualifications.

  • Sana Panjwani

    Armed with a journalism degree and a passion for reading, Sana is on a mission to find her voice, gives Would You Rather? questions a little too much thought and is a recovering procrastinator.