I’m a woman and I had a baby six months ago. It was and is a fantastic experience, but I find myself thinking about how that affects my employment and how much a company is willing to invest in me. It brings me to the Big Question: are women paid less because they can get pregnant? Even worse, will I be paid less in my career not only because I can, but because I did?
Getting specific, I’m an attorney by training and well aware that in this field, women make up a greater number of the students and make up a majority of the top graduates in law school classes. Yet in the law profession, men significantly out-earn women. The same is true in many other lines of work.
I don’t want to be reactionary or pick a fight, but it’s a very fair question. We spend a great deal of time talking about why women are paid less than men, and those reasons include our perceived status as a second income, the fact that we often move to accommodate our partner’s career, and far too often, the premise that we’re not as good at something as a man. Can we expect men to leave the higher paying job to follow their wives? Can we expect the higher-paid man to take a year off to raise the baby? Aren’t there areas that women would excel over men?
The chicken or the egg?
But what’s cause and what’s effect? Are we the second income, following our husband or perceived as less efficient at something because we’re paid less (less incentive is less attractive)? Does all of the rationale boil down to the fact that we can get pregnant, and that kicks off a difference in how we’re treated in elementary and high school, college, and our first and every subsequent job? Is our tendency toward lower pay ‘baked in’ regardless of our talents or choices?
I’m banking on the new economy to begin to resolve this challenge. As we move away from an Industrial Age mindset, the ability for someone to get work done has less to do with being on the ‘factory floor’ of designing, constructing, marketing and selling and more to do with contribution wherever and whenever. The more we offer the opportunity for flexible work, the more we can bring all of the talent available to the problem. And why wait? These things are vicious or virtuous cycles. Each piece of data can support a drive toward equality or reinforce the status quo. There’s little middle ground.
Imagine what happens when we take advantage of all of the available brain cells by offering equal incentive regardless of gender?