The Motherhood penalty

What is the Motherhood penalty?


If you are a working Mum, you may have heard of the motherhood penalty, if not I am going to tell you everything you need to know. What is the motherhood penalty and how might it affect you? In a nutshell, the motherhood penalty is where mothers face discrimination in the workplace.

What is the motherhood penalty?

There has been lots online and in social media about the inequality between men and women in the workplace. Over time companies and organisations have tried to reduce this gap and reduce the inequality. However, it seems mothers are further discriminated against in the workplace compared to women who do not have children.

The Gender action portal outlines the motherhood penalty. Essentially working mothers experience further disadvantage in the workplace than women without children. They claim the pay gap in women with children and those without may actually be larger than the gap between men and women. As well as lower pay, working Mums are less likely to receive promotions or professional development.

Why is there a motherhood penalty

As most of us are aware this inequality should not be present in companies and organisations. It is thought to be due to society stereotypes and bias. Some employers seem to make negative assumptions about a Mother’s commitment to work, productivity and availability. Added to this are inadequate paternity policies and the high cost of childcare.

An article in The Guardian claims that due to inflexible working arrangements, the cost of childcare, as well as outdated, toxic attitudes to motherhood, had led to nearly a quarter of a million mothers leaving their jobs. 10% of women questioned in a survey had considered handing in their notice due to being unable to balance motherhood and work. This increased to 13% in single mothers.


What impact does this have on mothers?

The obvious impact in this scenario is that women miss out on career opportunities. This in turn leads to less pay, less career satisfaction and a feeling of being overlooked. The struggle to find the balance between motherhood and work can lead to stress and burnout.

As well as having an impact on a Mothers career it can impact on their home-life also. It may mean they have to work more hours or days than they would like to, and then spending less time with their family. If Mothers begin to suffer from stress and burnout then they may also find parenting more challenging.

The future of the motherhood penalty

After a lot of hard work and pressure from numerous organisations, the UK Government has finally passed a flexible working bill. This comes into force in April 2024, and will apparently help improve the situation of millions. The aim of this is to help create a happier, and so more productive workforce in the UK. It is also felt offering flexible working means companies will be a more attractive prospect, and attract the best staff.

What does this actually mean in real life though?

  • Employees will be able to request flexible working from day 1 of employment.
  • Employers will have to consult with the employee before rejecting a request for flexible working
  • Employees will be able to make 2 applications for flexible working within a 12 month period, rather than 1 at the moment
  • Employees will no longer have to explain the effect their flexible working would have and how it should be dealt with
changes ahead

Is this enough though? No, it is not enough. The cost of childcare has been shown to be a huge reason Mothers have no choice but to leave work. Due to this the government should try to help more with the cost of childcare. Maternity and paternity leave policies need to be designed to help protect and support mothers. There should be support readily available for mothers who feel they have been discriminated against at work.

A lot of workplace traditions are based on stereotypical ideas of working men, e.g. going for a drink after work. There should be some effort to make social activities more family friendly so that parents can participate, e.g. family picnics.

To conclude

Essentially, it has been recognised that mothers are at a disadvantage in the workplace. It is good progress is being made to reduce the motherhood penalty. A lot of work is still needed though!


  1. What is the motherhood penalty? The motherhood penalty refers to the disadvantages that mothers face in their careers due to bias and expectations in society. Leading to reduced career prospects, lower pay, and limited professional growth.
  2. Why does the motherhood penalty exist? The motherhood penalty exists due to deeply ingrained societal expectations and stereotypes about gender roles, assuming that mothers may be less committed to their careers or less productive.
  3. How can companies eliminate the motherhood penalty? Companies can eliminate the motherhood penalty by implementing flexible work arrangements, being more inclusive, and offering robust parental leave policies.
  4. What role can individuals play in addressing the motherhood penalty? Individuals can advocate for change by challenging stereotypes, supporting workplace initiatives that promote equality, and being vocal about the importance of work-life balance for both men and women.
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