Are Indian women paying a motherhood wage penalty?

working mother, gender gap

Lack of sufficient support at home is one of the reasons mothers find it difficult to return to work. (Source: Getty images)

Maternity and motherhood challenges are the two most common reasons a woman in India takes career break. A survey conducted by AVTAR — a firm dedicated to creating inclusive workplaces — on second careers of women professionals (women resuming careers after taking a break), revealed that parenting challenges and maternity accounted for 45 and 35 per cent of women respectively taking a break in their careers.

Insufficient support at home is an impediment

The average duration of a career break among all respondent women was four years and four months. What stood in their way were "insufficient support at home" and "gender stereotyping" as the third and fourth biggest impediment (23 per cent and 15 per cent) after lack of network (59 per cent) and skill gap (36 per cent) that hindered their re-entry.

Dr Saundarya Rajesh, social entrepreneur and founder-president, AVTAR Group, highlighted how working mothers have to face bias at home as well as the workplace. "No doubt, there exists a double bind of patriarchy; while it was patriarchy which dictated that child-rearing was the woman's sole responsibility, the same patriarchy designed workplaces around the clockwork of the male career and ordained that if you took a break, you are ostracised," she remarked.

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Why women are paying motherhood wage penalty

Gender gap is so internalised that of the women surveyed, 69 per cent said they anticipated a pay-cut on their return to their careers. It does not come as a surprise since mothers tend to suffer wage and hiring disadvantages at their workplace and pay what is known as "motherhood wage penalty" despite laws on maternity leave.

Talking about the causes of motherhood wage penalty, Rajesh explained, "One of the main reasons is the biased notion at the employer's end that mothers returning after breaks are under-skilled and might exhibit low productivity. The lack of awareness and sensitisation among men (who are the workplace majority) further perpetuates these biased notions of gender role stereotyping. Returning mothers are often relegated to less significant roles and end up earning less than they used to, an indirect penalty."

Tips to prepare for re-entry

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What mothers need is adequate support and assurance both at home and office. Previous research by Avtar showed how a home-based family or non-family caregivers were among significant career enablers for women, said Rajesh. At the workplace, women need a more gender-inclusive environment. And to be ahead of the game and fight the competition, they need to update their skills. According to Rajesh, "investing in upskilling, staying connected during your break, being flexible on the path you take on your return, creating a strong support system before the re-entry and creating a powerful returnship resume that articulates the skills you have picked during your break," are crucial prerequisites for working mothers who wish to return after a break.