The threat of pregnancy makes women cheaper

Peas in a pod pictureI’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?

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Categories: Human Resources

Author:Jeanne Roué-Taylor

I'm fascinated by disruptive technology and its impact on our world. I manage sales operations for an excellent startup with a unique team of highly experienced data scientists.

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5 Comments on “The threat of pregnancy makes women cheaper”

  1. August 25, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    I never understood how we could live in today’s day and age and there still be such workplace inequality regarding pay and gender. There are just some places in life that try really hard to keep up with technology and the changing norms of society, and others that insist on staying stuck in 19th century ways of thinking. The idea that women should be paid less because they *might* have a baby at some point in their careers truly makes no sense as it presupposes something that may or not be true. More importantly, even if a woman does have a baby that should not change anything. The work that is done/will be done does not somehow become devalued before the baby is even a thought in the mother’s mind or even after a baby is born.

    Now I am not a woman of course, but I only say that to bring up the point that it really should not matter what my gender is because this is an equality issue. My gender, with regard to my opinion in this is about as relevant as the fact that I am not left handed. That’s why blog posts like this are so important and questions like the ones above should be asked by anyone and everyone. Great post and as much as these questions are vital, I hope some day soon we don’t have to ask them anymore.

    • Jeanne Roué-Taylor
      August 26, 2013 at 9:19 am #

      Thank you for your response, Kevin. The dialogue is the key. The more people that are talking about a problem, the more likely we’ll get to a better place.

  2. August 26, 2013 at 7:17 am #

    The “baby” factor is viable mostly in developped countries with high emphasis on social welfare, like France. Maternity leaves are on the company, aren’t they.
    Then the rational thinking (the bad kind) kicks in: “What can I do to make up for this stupid law forcing me to pay someone when he or she is just playing with a baby?”
    You then add a pinch of these outdated work philosophy like “after such a leave, how much time will it take for this person to be efficient?Does it imply she’s prone to have another baby?”
    And there you go, that’s how it’s explained.
    The worst part of it? Remove these reasons and I bet you’d still notice different paycheck, because things like that take ages to change.

    I don’t know what the best route to take from here. Waiting for the habits to change might take too much time, but stacking laws to prevent such behaviors is too clumsy.

    Maybe simply asking ourselves why are we still here is the proper answer. Forcing ourselves to reconsider the situtation, keeping it a concern for our generation and the ones to come, changing society age layer by age layer. Or maybe i’m just too lazy to find a proper answer 😦

    • Jeanne Roué-Taylor
      August 26, 2013 at 9:17 am #

      Benoit, great response! Thank you for very thoughtful comments. I agree that the answer isn’t simple…making laws is very clumsy. Just like with racism and any other -ism, it takes changing people’s views.

  3. Manisha
    September 4, 2013 at 12:45 am #

    The big question is “how many mothers of the new born baby will come back to work after the maternity leaves end?” and I think the employers across the globe think of this question when they employ any female. How much travel and work she’ll be able to handle from office once back..why not let men manage the kids+home and work+travel together and let the women behave like a man of the house.

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