The New York Times writes that the gender pay gap is mostly established after women have children. It adds another ‘how come’ to the list of explanations for the gender pay gap, next to deeply rooted beliefs about role models and hidden sexism.
Is motherhood the third reason for gender pay gap?
This was supposed to be our third and last blog of the series about the infamous gender pay gap. However, you’re not rid of us yet!
In the process of writing our concluding blog we came across the above New York Times article that made us realize we gave little attention to the one aspect that is strongly believed to influences the gender pay gap most, namely: motherhood.
These are a few of the comments we received from our colleagues from the Kennedy Executive Search & Consulting network:
- Paul Battye from Moorlands Human Capital/ Kennedy Executive Search UK: “How will you tackle the elephant in the room of pay gaps being established after women have children? This is the main area where most companies fall down. If a woman takes a year off for a child she comes back with a year’s less experience and therefore a pay gap is often established which is difficult to catch up. Add a second, third or fourth child into the equation and this can become massively significant. This is where a lot of the academic research falls down and where lots more is being conducted.”
- George Kobelrausch from Ikelosz/ Kennedy Executive Search Hungary: “The pay gap in a given segment of the population is due to the fact, that there is an exceptionally long possibility of maternity leave in Hungary. Women may be legally absent from work for 3 years. While they are staying at home raising children their male counterparts gain more work experience and their career progresses resulting higher salaries.”
- Laura Galli from VIR HR/ Kennedy Executive Search Italy: “The main cause is a cultural factor. In Italy it is very appreciated if a person can work till late at night. And it is a common thought that women (who usually take care of children) cannot stay till night at her office and for this reason she could be paid less. Here, women usually take care of children. We lack affordable child care to support families, therefore it is often the woman that must be organized to manage family duties. For this reason, companies believe women cannot be fully committed to their job and should gain less because of that”.
These quotes made us realize many countries have other priorities first, such as providing and improving day care services and breaking with traditional role patterns in which mothers stay at home, taking care of kids and household instead of pursuing a career, while dads are the breadwinners.
However, this does not explain the gender pay gap in The Netherlands, since our maternity leave is only 16 weeks maximum, affordable child care is available to everybody, (though not to the same extend as in the Nordics), dads take an equal role in raising their kids and in our highly flexible labour market we made it possible to pursue a career, working four days a week. Yet, this last, highly valued achievement, comes with a certain price: our Dutch female respondents mentioned more than once that they prioritize flexibility over salary, because they value a good family/work balance more than a higher prime salary.
When digging for more ‘circumstantial’ information, we bumped into an article published beginning of this year in the Telegraph. It is a must-read for all of us who tend to be slightly skeptical and always look for better solutions and best practices in other cultures and countries, overlooking the blessings of their own system. A few quotes:
- The “Dutch society has fought for and achieved an enviable work-life balance. As the part-time champions of Europe, the Dutch work on average 29 hours a week, dedicate at least one day a week to spending time with their children, and pencil in time for themselves, too.”,
- “Dutch fathers are not afraid of looking like sissies –they take and equal role in child rearing and household chores. They look after their kids on their days off and help put the little ones to bed. You’re just as likely to see a dad pushing a pram or wearing a baby-carrier as a mum.”
- “You won’t find a Dutch mother expressing guilt about the amount of time she spends with her children –she will make a point of finding time for herself outside motherhood and work.
After reading this article one could understand the Dutch are willing to pay a price for raising the happiest kids. Our highly valued four-day working week may block the way to a top executive position, but there is a bigger gain: it enables us to raise (very) happy kids. Perhaps it explains why Dutch women on the one hand recognize the issue but on the other hand don’t seem to be much bothered by it.
However: not reaching a top executive position is not the same as accepting a gender pay difference. It would be interesting to investigate if the gender pay gap continues to exist if more and more young fathers decide to opt for a four-day working week as well, which they already do by the way. If so, it would prove that parenthood has nothing to do with it and frankly speaking, we would not be surprised if that would be the case.
It is a common thought that the ‘impeachment’ of the gender pay gap will take its natural course, since female students currently outclass their male counterparts in finishing higher education and obtaining academic degrees. Something tells us though that it is not that obvious. When parenthood proves not to be the essential cause, we are left with deeply rooted beliefs in role models and hidden sexism as the main causes for the existence of a gender pay gap, two aspects that require more attention than taking practical measurements in the organization of our society.
How will we overcome gender pay gap?
In our next (and final!) blog we will recapture our previous blogs, take a closer look at the role we, as an Executive Search company could play, and give you some practical tips and take-aways.
Stay tuned. We will be back in four weeks.