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Is your company biased against moms?

Monday, September 30, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Joan Toth

The retail and consumer goods industry has made major strides toward achieving gender equality in the workplace. There’s general agreement that gender diversity is good for business and there are more women in high-profile industry jobs.

Influential leaders are championing the business benefits of women’s leadership. Case in point: Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, who told this year's NEW Executive Leaders Forum, "Brands get better and morale gets better” with more women leaders.

But one thing hasn’t changed: the stubborn bias against women with children. This "motherhood penalty” is deeply rooted in our industry — and in society itself — and it means moms are paid less and offered fewer career opportunities than dads.

The latest NEW best practices report — "Women 2020: The Future of Women’s Leadership in Retail and Consumer Goods” — reveals that despite significant gains in women’s education and employment, a lack of support for mothers is hurting women’s career prospects.

The pay gap between men and women is well documented, but the wage gap between full-time working moms and men working full time is three times greater. Women without children who work full time earn 7 percent less than the median full-time wage of men. But women with children who work full time earn a whopping 23 percent less than men in the United States, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The statistics can’t be explained away by mothers working fewer hours or avoiding challenging assignments — there is unconscious bias at work, too.

An experiment by researchers at Cornell University found mothers were penalized on a "host of measures, including perceived competence and recommended starting salary,” that had nothing to do with their job commitment or actual hours worked.

The findings were confirmed by an audit that showed companies not only discriminated against mothers, they rewarded fathers. The conclusion? Motherhood is not perceived as compatible with leadership — but fatherhood is.

In U.S. retail, the motherhood penalty is not just hurting women, it’s hurting business. Women make or influence more than 90 percent of food purchases and comprise 48 percent of the retail workforce, but they represent less than 18 percent of the industry’s executive officers and less than 2 percent of its CEOs. Few companies are leveraging the business benefits of having a leadership team that looks like its shoppers.

How does the retail industry, which ranks second behind nursing in projected job growth through 2020, eliminate the motherhood penalty and create a better workplace for all?

To start, organizations need to audit their pay and benefits and hold leaders accountable for eliminating bias in hiring and promotion. Succession planning and talent reviews should focus on ensuring working moms aren’t discounted as "not committed.” Retailers also need to rethink store scheduling practices that leave moms unable to juggle work, family schedules and (in the cases of women trying to advance) their own schooling. One major U.S. retailer has taken a cue from the healthcare industry and offers flexible scheduling, such as three days on, three days off.

Until now, companies have focused on developing women so that they can advance in a traditional, male-dominated leadership culture. At the Network of Executive Women, we think it’s time to change our industry’s corporate culture from the checkout stand to the corner office and make it less rigid and more flexible, less authoritative and more collaborative.

Our organizations need to create workplaces where motherhood is as valued as fatherhood — and no one has to choose between having a life and having a career. Women need it. The Millennial generation wants it. And the times demand it.

Joan Toth is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women. This article first appeared in Progressive Grocer.

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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