Is your company biased against moms?
Monday, September 30, 2013
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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
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.
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
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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