For more than 25 Million Women, This Is Why Today Is Actually Equal Pay Day

In the United States, according to the World Economic Forum, the gender parity gap is expected to close in about 150 years.  This includes equal participation in the labor force, closing the leadership gap and, of course, the gender pay gap. 

For 25 million women, that gender pay gap is even more difficult to close.  Why?

They are mothers.

While April 10th represented the day the average American woman has to work beyond the previous year to make the same amount of money as the average white, non-Hispanic man.  Yet, today, May 30th, another 50 days later, marks Equal Pay Day for Mothers compared to Fathers.

A recent study highlighted by the New York Times dives deeper into the pay gap for mothers, finding that after the birth of a first child, a woman’s pay gap doubles compared to their spouse, and if that baby arrives when the woman is between the age of 25-35, her pay compared to her spouse will never recover.

Of course, the actual causes of the wage gap go beyond just having a baby, starting with the simple fact that women are still paid less for the same work.  And while significant strides have been made – for example, women are entering college at higher rates then men – women are still overrepresented in lower paying jobs and underrepresented in higher-paying industries, such as STEM.  In addition, most jobs are ‘gendered’ and women’s work becomes devalued simply because it’s considered ‘women’s work’ (e.g. nurse vs. doctor).

But the motherhood penalty impacts women’s pay, their access to opportunity, and even their ability to be hired – mothers are 79% less likely to be hired and 50% less likely to be promoted than men or women without children.

Layer in the additional challenge that mothers are often judged for not being committed to their work if they leave early and then also judged by colleagues for not being a good mother if they stay at work late.  It is impossible for working mothers to fit the perfect employee model of being able to change your work schedule at a moment’s notice, travel and be available 24/7 and also be considered a good mother. 

According to Pew Research Center, 75% of Americans believe mothers should not work full time, yet 7 out of 10 mothers work and 40% of those working mothers are the breadwinners for their family.   This bias that mothers need to be home with their children impacts women’s ability to advance professionally and it has a name: the Maternal Wall.

The maternal wall essentially accounts for all of the stereotypes and biases, unconscious or conscious, that impact a woman when she becomes a mother.  And while we’ve been talking about breaking down glass ceilings for years, the reality is that for most women, they first need to climb over the maternal wall.

Women are in the unique position to bear children, and our society still holds them accountable as the primary caregiver.  So as #metoo and #timesup have gained steam over the year, we cannot forget that part of this conversation has to include motherhood and how we can improve the workplace for new moms to keep them engaged and on track for promotions and leadership opportunities. 

As Katherine Goldstein wrote in the New York Times, we need to start raising our voices, #metoo style and sharing our stories. 


Maternal bias can be blatant – I’ve worked with clients who returned from maternity leave only to find they had been replaced outright - to the more subtle discrimination, e.g. the well-meaning manager who gave you the easier, slower accounts because they thought it would be better for you as a new mom. 

Achieving equal pay and gender parity as a country may be 150 years away, but we can all take individual action in our own careers by sharing our stories and speaking up for the needs of working mothers.


Mary Beth Ferrante is the owner and founder of Live.Work.Lead., an organization dedicated to working with companies to retain top female talent by supporting women navigate their first critical year of becoming a new parent.  Live.Work.Lead. works with new and expecting moms through 1:1 and through group programs.  They also provide training to managers on the maternal wall and how to better support their employees planning for and returning from parental leave. Prior to founding Live.Work.Lead., Mary Beth was an SVP of Business Strategy for a Fortune 100 company. 

Mary Beth Ferrante