Is the Motherhood Penalty Happening To You

Is the Motherhood Penalty Happening To You

Motherhood Penalty Checklist


In This Post

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  • What’s being said behind closed doors
  • Does the motherhood penalty apply to you?
  • So What?
  • What Now?
  • One Crucial Step Most People Skip
  • Take the Quiz
  • Free download – Ultimate Career Planner for Corporate Moms
  • Next Steps to Put This Into Action

You Might Be Surprised At What’s Being Said Behind Closed Doors

Have you noticed changes in the vibe at work after you had a baby? It might be subtle or it might be blatant, but have you noticed some shifts in the way you’re perceived at work?

You might be experiencing the motherhood penalty.

I’ve been in many board rooms where the leadership is discussing women who are pregnant or who have kids (either recently or not so recently) and it’s been so disheartening to hear the bias.

  • “Why is she taking a day off, didn’t she just have a 3 month vacation?” (referring to maternity leave)
  • We definitely can’t give her that promotion now (that she’s pregnant)
  • “You can’t hire her, she’s of childbearing age” (referring to a rock star candidate)
  • And the list goes on and on.

And, honestly, before I had kids, I was a young manager who couldn’t relate AT ALL to women who did have kids. I said some pretty crazy stuff to my female employees who were pregnant or who had babies. 

Of course, there are amazing bosses and amazing companies out there. 

But, there is also a lot of bias still remaining in the workplace toward women who have kids.

In this post, let’s have a frank conversation about what might be going on with the motherhood penalty, if it’s impacting your career, and what you could do about it (if anything).

Does the Motherhood Penalty Apply To You?

There are several areas of your career that could be showing signs of the motherhood penalty.

Here are the top 4 areas of your career that may be impacted.

Read through these and see which, if any, apply to you.

1. Big Assignments

The motherhood penalty may be holding you back from those big assignments that were once a slam-dunk assignment for you.

Were you always the go-to person for the big assignments? The assignments that meant the most to the company’s success?

Have you noticed that the types of assignments you receive have changed since you had kids?

It could be that there are decisions being made on your behalf about:

  • Your willingness to travel
  • Your ability to work a certain number of hours
  • Your ability to focus, assuming you’re sleep deprived
  • You interest in your career now that you have a family
  • How “distracted” you are by baby and kid schedules – doctor appointments, sick kids, pick-up/drop-off, etc.

2. Promotions

The motherhood penalty may also be limiting your promotion path.

Have you noticed your promotion path has slowed down or taken a detour?

I had one employee who was on the fast-track to executive leadership. She had all the skills required to juggle the internal communication and politics, was very polished with client-facing activities, was a problem solver, a creative thinker and extremely reliable. You could always count on her.

Then she had a baby.

Without discussing it, the CEO decided on her behalf that she wouldn’t be able to commit the travel required to fulfill a big acquisition project.

Maybe she wouldn’t have.

But, he made the choice for her, based on assumptions of what she could and honestly in his mind, should, be doing with her time and family. He assumed she couldn’t travel to the extent needed and that she should be home with the baby as a new mom.

She never got the choice.

3. Influence

The motherhood penalty may also be diminishing your internal influence.

Before kids, were you perceived as a go-getter who would do anything for the company’s success? 

You were frequently consulted on your ideas for solving corporate challenges? 

Did your influence extend beyond your business unit and into the organization as a whole?

Then, you had kids.

Did something shift?

Did you start to notice that your opinion isn’t being sought about as much, that you’re not being asked for input in situations where you would normally be?

Are you feeling marginalized from the areas you previously influenced?

4. Money

Money is the most common factor associated to the motherhood penalty.

Have you noticed that your compensation trajectory has changed? Is it slowing down or even coming to a halt?

Perhaps your bonuses are getting smaller after you had kids?

Do you know how your compensation compares to your counterparts who don’t have kids?

I’ve been in those conversations about employee comp – for my own direct reports and the organization as a whole. 

When difficult decisions were being made about salary, these are the types of things I often heard:

  • She just had 3 months off this year (for maternity leave), that’s a big enough bonus. Let’s not give her a bonus this year.
  • She’s not working as many hours so let’s limit her salary increase this year (the committee didn’t want to take into account the fact that the employee would work late hours from home…it was all about face time in the office and who was physically there late every evening)
  • She probably won’t be here long term after she has a second baby so let’s apply that raise to someone else.


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Why Does It Matter?

Do any of these factors apply to you? Do you think you may be experiencing the motherhood penalty?

If so, why does it matter?

Honestly, it might not matter.

I’d love to say that it shouldn’t be happening as a matter of principle.

But it does happen.

To many women.

The question I have here is, if it’s happening to you, does it matter to you?

Perhaps you do want to take a step back in your career now that you have kids. You’d like to do your job and do it well, but not take on additional assignments and responsibilities.

You might be happy just where you are. 

Your fulfillment and overall happiness may not be impacted by the motherhood penalty.

If you’re feeling fulfilled and content with where you are at this season in life, the motherhood penalty may be a non-issue.

You don’t need me to tell you that maintaining your career just where you are, or even taking a step back, is a great option.

But, if it does matter to you….

If you do want

  • to pursue promotions,
  • to continue to receive the organization’s top raises and bonuses,
  • to feel that rush when you conquer those challenging special assignments, and
  • to feel fulfilled at work, like you’re making the greatest impact you can,

the motherhood penalty does matter.

You need to know what forces might be at play behind the scenes and what to do about them.

So You Are Experiencing the Motherhood Penalty, What Now? 

You have 4 main options for addressing the motherhood penalty. You can also combine a few of these approaches to create a hybrid approach that works for you in the short and long run:

1. Stay and rebuild

The first option is to stay at your current company and tackle the motherhood penalty head-on. 

One of the biggest mistakes I notice in my clients and with the employees I managed in the past is that they never addressed these topics directly with their manager and the company leadership.

They allow assumptions to be made on their behalf.

In the option where you stay at your current company and work to rebuild, you would:

  • Talk to your manager directly about your career goals
  • Address the elephants in the room – your ability to travel, your schedule, your commitment
  • Talk to them about the scenarios when you need to work from home with a sick kid or how you will cover childcare when you need to stay late or come in early for critical meetings

Think about all the assumptions the manager may be making and discuss them head-on.

When you do this, think about your manager’s frame of reference.

  • Maybe his wife stayed home with the kids
  • Maybe she chose not to have kids wfor whatever reason
  • Maybe their mom worked growing up and they have feelings about their childhood
  • Who knows what it could be but ask. Find out what their perspective is on women who have kids and who work 

2. Stay and prepare your options

You may stay in your current role but start building other options on the side. 

I have many clients who are working at their job but also preparing options for themselves, should they decide to make a change.

They do all the steps listed in #1, plus also:

  • Research options for your own business (for example, I researched everything ranging from consulting, network marketing, blogging, etc and finally realized that coaching fits me perfectly)
  • Start creating a side-gig so you have a plan B if you need or want to pursue that 
  • Test out a variety of options to figure out what fits best
  • Focus on building your network so you have options regardless of what you choose to do.

3. Leave for a family-friendlier company

There are many family-friendly companies out there. 

You could start pursuing opportunities with them.

If you choose this option, definitely see the next section about the one crucial step most people skip….

4. Think outside the box

Do you think about your options as black and white?

So many of us do.

Stay at this job or become a stay-at-home mom is the most common consideration.

So many of us stay in jobs that are not fulfilling or where we feel stifled because we

  • don’t want to lose the financial security,
  • don’t feel we can convince our husbands that another option is a good choice for the family (financially or otherwise), and/or
  • deep-down don’t have the confidence we can do something different.

But what if you set aside those considerations for a minute and thought about what you truly have a passion for and would want to pursue  if you had no other responsibilities?

What would make you feel fulfilled?

What would make you feel like you’re making a difference?

What would you be doing that aligns most with what you value in life?

Options for thinking outside the box could be:

  • Working part-time
  • Working from home
  • Consulting in your current profession/industry
  • Creating your own business

One Crucial Step That Most People Skip

So now we’ve covered

  • the motherhood penalty,
  • that it could be contributing to your lack of fulfillment at work,
  • that it could be causing you to dread going to a job you used to LOVE,
  • that it might be causing you to question your overall direction in life, and
  • 4 options for deciding what to do next,

I want to give you one IMPORTANT STEP TO TAKE regardless of which option(s) you choose.

The one crucial step that most people skip when making decisions and a possible big change is to get as clean as possible.

What is getting clean? That could be taken a lot of different ways, right?

What I mean is to get to a mental space where you know you can be happy regardless of the option(s) you choose.

Jumping ship and changing to pursue another opportunity, assuming it will make you happy is dangerous.

It’s like telling yourself you’ll be happy as soon as you lose 20 lbs. 

But happiness isn’t tied to a circumstance – where we work, how much we weigh, etc.

It’s tied to our thoughts.

So, if you can clean up your thoughts about your current company and work, and get to a place where you  know that the grass isn’t greener unless you make it green, then you’ll be ready to conquer whatever option(s) you choose in a more productive way.

Next Steps Take Action

  1. Click here to take the quiz
  2. Click here to join the conversation over at The Corporate Moms Club on Facebook
  3. Click here to apply for your free Strategy Session with me


In this post, we covered:

  • the motherhood penalty,
  • that it could be contributing to your lack of fulfillment at work,
  • that it could be causing you to dread going to a job you used to LOVE,
  • that it might be causing you to question your overall direction in life, and
  • 4 options for deciding what to do next, and
  • the CRUCIAL step to take before doing anything.
  • Take the Motherhood Penalty Quiz
  • Download the free download below to work through this motherhood penalty.

Did You Know?

I’m a success coach for corporate moms.

If you’re reading this, my bet is that you’re an ambitious mom who wants all she can out of life, for herself and for her family.

But, like so many other moms, you might be feeling

  • Exhausted,
  • Overwhelmed,
  • Spread too thin, 
  • That you’ll never get back on track to the high achiever you used to be.
  • You’re in survival mode.
  • You might be feeling like you’re failing at everything as a result.

I can relate. I used to be all of these things (and more). But, then I found a coach who helped me get exactly what I wanted 

  • Achievement
  • Belief in myself and my new identity (one that incorporates but isn’t defined by motherhood)
  • Purpose
  • Direction
  • Clarity
  • Results

I help other ambitious moms do the same thing.

I work with other ambitious moms like you to create and execute the mindset, strategies and routines that are required get out of survival mode and achieve your goals, both personally and professionally.

Think of it as a re-set for ambitious moms, like you, who want to maximize what you do, who you are, and all you impact, to make the most out of your life. Do you want to:

  • Regain control of your current career path
  • Create better balance (don’t believe the naysayers, it is possible)
  • Migrate to an alternative career path such as part-time or
  • Build your own consulting business

The first step is a complimentary Strategy Session where we talk about your goals, your obstacles and create a mini action plan for you. 

Click this link to APPLY FOR your free Strategy Session. 

This is time focused on you and your goals, and how to get to the next level. 

Related Links

How To Deal With a Bad Boss

Returning to Work After Maternity Leave: 10 Considerations

The Third Option for Working Moms

Take the Motherhood Penalty Quiz

The Corporate Moms Club on Facebook

Free Download 👇

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