Women miss promotions for maternity leave: study

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Although the old adage is that women make 77 cents to the man’s dollar, new research has found that there’s a new number equal pay advocates should focus on.

At age 32, women are more likely to leave the workforce and begin having children, according to a report from employee benefit cloud technology provider, entitled “The Visier Insights: Gender Equity.”

“There is a pronounced dip in the percentage of women in the workforce between the ages of 25 and 40, the same age range in which women commonly have children,” according to the report. “This dip recovers after age 39, around the same time most women who have children would see the last of those children entering primary school.”

The lack of experienced, promotable women in the workplace leads to what Vancouver-based Visier Corp. coined as “the managerial divide.”

“There’s a time frame when you get the greatest gains in your compensation,” says Dave Weisbeck, chief strategy officer at Visier, “and a setup of natural forces puts [women] in a disadvantaged state.”

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Those women, Weisbeck says, see lost wages and missed promotion opportunities that might help close the wage gap.

While Visier’s data showed that there wasn’t a clear gender bias in promotions at any age group, men are more likely to be promoted if there is less female competition in the workplace.

Managers will make about twice as much as the average employee, according to the report. By the time women return to work, the wage gap has grown from 90 cents to the man’s dollar to 82 cents in an eight-year period, according to the research.

The Mommy Tax

Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women, estimates that the gender gap will cost a woman $1.3 million over her lifetime in pay alone. She’ll also lose $800,000 in work achievement, $700,000 in investing and $800,000 in unpaid labor.

A portion of those lost wages comes from maternity leave.

According to an October 2016 brief from the National Center for Health Statistics, 77% of women between the ages of 25 and 34 expect to have a child in the future, and women on average expected to have 2.2 children in their lifetime. Coupled with the time it takes to conceive and space out children, family planning could hinder women in their 30’s returning to work.

“The burden associated with raising children is significant and it doesn’t just stop when you get out of the maternity ward,” says Weisbeck. “Women are more likely to take that choice of leaving the workforce to take on that work.”

Forty-two percent of working mothers had reduced their work hours to care for a child or other family member at some point in their working life, compared with 28% of working fathers, according to Visier’s report.

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And while Visier reported that the gender wage gap has improved by 8% of the last 20 years, hovering closer to 82.5 cents to the dollar rather than the oft-repeated 77 cents, employers are unsure how to close the wage gap.

“What can employers realistically do?” asks Weisbeck. “If they promote women, they still might take off for maternity leave. Is the answer as simple as paternity leave?”

Debra Friedman of the law firm Cozen O’Connor’s labor and employment department says it’s more complex than that.

First of all, she says, men and women both might take unexpected leaves of absence during their careers. If employers were to avoid promoting women for fear of future pregnancies, that falls under discrimination laws.

In terms of taking parental leave, which is available to eligible employees under the Family Medical Leave Act, women are more likely than men to take the leave for longer periods of time.

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“For some workers, the issue is not being able to afford the time off,” Friedman says. “For other workers, it could be a concern about being stigmatized in the workforce.”

The returning bias

And once an employee returns to the workforce after taking time off to birth or raise children, employers could hold an unconscious bias, or otherwise, that she is not as committed to her career as someone who didn’t leave work, Friedman says.

Employers can combat those biases and lack of opportunities by providing women with the tools they need to be successful, even before the managerial gap emerges.

Friedman says employers should “make sure women have sponsors to advocate for them in the workforce, that there are formal and informal networks for women to have as resources, and women are given high-value assignments and opportunities for advancement, regardless if they need a flexible schedule or took time off to raise a child.”

See also: Companies beginning to expand parental leave

Another tip to help employers minimize the wage gap is utilizing internal pay equity audits once an employee returns from maternity leave. Employers can compare the salaries of people in the same or similar jobs to determine if there is a gender disparity, says Friedman.

Although variances exist, such as education, experience, negotiating power and the market rate at the time of hire, Friedman says it’s worth taking a look.

Weisbeck adds that policies like parental leave provide an advantage to win over talent, noting that employers have the potential to hire highly skilled and motivated women.

“Are you leaving [them] behind?” he asks.

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