The Confidence Factor for Women: The Motherhood Penalty


(part of the actual letter)

Dear Carol,

I am returning to work after a 5 year hiatus to raise my 2 children. I am an executive compliance professional, who is passionate about my profession. My husband and I made the decision as a family that I would stay home and raise the children until kindergarten, and now I am eager to go back to work.

My question stems from a bit of fear. I have been working with a head hunter to identify opportunities and with each confirmed interview, I become quite anxious when I am asked about the gap in employment. I am fearful that I will not be considered for projects that utilize my skills due to the fact I am a mother of young children. There are times when I feel that the question is a gentle way of reminding me that I have to start from the bottom and work my way back to the top as a form of detention for making a sacrifice to raise my children.

I am sure there are other mothers, who feel this form of discrimination. I do not like the feeling of being punished for taking a professional break to be a mother. My value has not changed and I am willing to do the work, but I do not want to start over. How do I get over this fear of discussing family and my professional absence in an interview?

Thank you,

Silent Mom


Dear Silent Mom,

Re-entering the work-place after family leave is commendable. I understand the increased awareness of explaining your decision during an interview about your family responsibilities, and although the world recognizes the implicit bias of salary equity in the workplace, there is a bias that is ignored; motherhood.

When it comes to an interview, as a leader, you are in control of what you deem to be valuable to the conversation. You are in control of ensuring the interviewer remains germane to your qualifications and the benefit to the corporate culture. Although there is nothing wrong with asking about your personal leave and family, if you are not comfortable with the question, revert back to the purpose of the interview.

The best way to overcome the fear during your job search is to ensure that you highlight accomplishments on your curricula vitae, which will stand out to the interviewer and decision makers, while limiting personal details. The interview must make you feel valued, and focus on your accomplishments.

A part of the fear that I believe you are focusing on is the potential loss of future opportunities and earnings because you are a mother, which is a relevant fact. On average, working mothers of elementary school age children earn less than mothers with teenagers/self sufficient aged dependents. It is commonly referred to as the Motherhood Penalty. Although it is a common issue we assist women leaders overcome, it can create limitations during the on-boarding process.

If you are uncomfortable with the question, trust your instinct. Dilute the question by creating a relevant conversation about your qualifications and value proposal. Being a mother is a proud accomplishment, which should never be allowed to determine the earning potential of working women. Feeling judged can be traumatic. Do not allow intimidation to factor in to your decision.

Good Luck & welcome back!

— Carol


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