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  • Writer's pictureBaljit Kaur

Motherhood Penalty – The root of many evils

What is the motherhood penalty?

The motherhood penalty, a phenomenon contributing to gender disparities in the workplace, is influenced by several key factors.

The concept of the “motherhood penalty” refers to the obstacles and biases that working mothers frequently encounter in their professional lives. These hurdles encompass various issues, such as the unequal burden of childcare responsibilities affecting women’s career trajectories and financial stability. Notably, this penalty exacerbates the gender pay gap, resulting in women being compensated less than their male counterparts for comparable roles.

Influencing factors:

Societal Biases and Gender Stereotypes

  • Biases and stereotypes, such as the ‘maternal wall bias,’ contribute to assumptions about mothers’ commitment to their careers.

  • These biases perpetuate discriminatory practices within the workplace, impacting mothers’ opportunities and advancement.

Parental Shame and Career Impact

  • Balancing work and family pressures often lead to feelings of shame, negatively impacting career development.

  • Parental shame can result in withdrawal from work tasks and even prompt some parents, particularly mothers, to leave the workforce.

Career Interruptions and Flexibility Needs

  • Career interruptions due to maternity leave or caregiving responsibilities hinder continuous career progression and skill development.

  • Part-time work and flexibility needs, while essential for work-life balance, can lead to reduced earning potential and limited career advancement opportunities.

Inadequate Policies and Household Labour Division

  • Inadequate family-friendly policies and unequal division of household labour exacerbate challenges faced by mothers.

  • These factors significantly contribute to the gender pay gap, impacting salary reductions and fewer years of work experience compared to counterparts.

Disparities for Minoritised Ethnic Backgrounds

  • The Fawcett Society’s report highlights significant disparities in pay and opportunities for mothers from minoritised ethnic backgrounds.

  • Exacerbated gaps and barriers exist, underscoring the urgent need for action to address intersectional challenges.


  • Promote flexible working arrangements.

  • Career development and mentorship.

  • Transparent family-friendly policies.

  • Mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting.

  • Create supportive work environments to mitigate the detrimental effects of parental shame on productivity and retention.


Globally, experiences of pregnancy and maternity discrimination are prevalent, highlighting deeply ingrained biases toward women’s roles as mothers. Discrimination ranges from dismissals and demotions to harassment and stalled career progression, impacting women’s economic empowerment and confidence. Even in countries known for progressive policies, instances of discrimination persist, underscoring the urgent need for systemic change to support mothers in their careers and reduce the gender gap.

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