"I'm sorry" – female CEO apologies to working mums: Our Office Mum Diarist discusses
Have you heard of the daddy bonus and the mommy penalty?
The mommy penalty part is easy to work out – research from the States shows that women with young children earn less than women who don’t have young children. That in itself is depressing but not altogether surprising – we know that some employers value women less after they have children...
But what about the 'daddy bonus' – what’s that about? The same studies show that men who have young children tend to earn more than men who don’t.
The explanation? According to Professor Michelle Budig, who carried out the research, "Men who conform to expectations of what makes a good man – being a highly educated, married father – [are] more valued as an employee."
So a man who is leaving the office to pick up a sick child from crèche may be viewed as a good father, whereas a woman in the same scenario may be seen as less committed than her colleagues.
Why is this the case?
Are we still falling for the Athena poster image of the man holding the baby – the one that took pride of place on many a 1980’s bedroom wall? Are we still metaphorically gushing and cooing when we see a man with a baby in the park?
Perhaps because men are not traditionally seen as primary caregivers, we perceive it as going beyond the call of duty when they do drop everything to pick up a sick child. Is it the case that when men do simple, everyday things – things that women do without thinking twice – they are exalted?
My husband takes our three children swimming every Saturday morning. A friend of mine commented to him recently that he was great to do it. If the roles had been reversed, I don’t know if I’d get the same compliment – I suspect it’s seen as going the extra mile because he’s a man.
And it’s not really our fault – we’re conditioned to see things this way; it’s how we’ve grown up.
I remember a few years ago, a colleague of mine had just travelled eight hours to get to a meeting in Germany. Just as he arrived, he got a call that his child had fallen and was in A & E back home. She had a very minor injury, but he turned and left, driving eight hours to get back to her. I remember that we all felt bad for him, but respected his “drop everything” approach for his little girl. In hindsight, I wonder if a female employee would have been viewed the same way? Or would we have seen her as over-reacting? It’s hypothetical – I don’t know if we’d have perceived it any differently. But what is certain, is that men and women who have children are seen differently in the workplace, and it’s doing women a disservice.
Company president Katharine Zaleski wrote this letter to Fortune to all the working moms she had wronged in the past – it went viral. She detailed some of the actions she’s now ashamed of – like writing off an editor once she saw a photo of her children on her desk. She remembers eye-rolling a mother who couldn’t make it to team drinks and questioning her commitment. She had no concerns watching a mother of three at an interview being asked how she would manage her job and her kids. She scheduled late meetings, without considering mothers who needed to leave for crèche. And it was only when she had her own child, that she could see the problem with her behaviour.
And that’s the tough part – that’s the irony. Perhaps those who are most likely to discriminate against working mothers can only truly change once they’ve had children of their own. And unfortunately – more irony – in turn this usually means having less influence. So, women are reaching the other side – finally understanding what it’s like – only it’s sometimes too late to make a difference.
The perception that women are less committed once they become mothers is unfair and untrue. Some women actively decide to take a step back, and some don’t.
For those who don’t, we need employers who are open to flexibility and who will actively work towards retaining talented women. And we need to encourage men to take up parental leave, therefore narrowing the gap between how each gender is perceived, reducing the 'mommy penalty'.
Watch Katharine Zaleski being interviewed here:
The Diary of an Office Mum is written by Andrea Mara is a shoe-obsessed, coffee-loving mother of three from Dublin. When she’s not at work, or looking after the kids, Elissa, 7, Nia, 5 and Matthew, 3, she’s simultaneously making tomorrow’s school lunches, eating Toblerone and letting off steam on her blog OfficeMum.ie.