Mothers May Face Increased Discrimination In The Workplace After Pandemic, Research Warns | Source

Working mothers are often expected to work as if they had no children and raise children as if they did not work. This impossible standard is at the root of gender inequalities in the workplace, according to two new studies from Washington University in St. Louis.

The research papers, published separately in Demography, show how rigid schedules and biased hiring practices, combined with gender-specific cultural norms regarding support of family and caregiving, lead to discrimination against mothers and perpetuate inequalities. existing gender issues in the workplace.


The research also warns why mothers may face increased discrimination in the workplace after the pandemic, according to Patrick Ishizuka, assistant professor of sociology in the arts and sciences.

“The pandemic has opened our eyes even more to the challenges facing working parents – especially mothers,” Ishizuka said.

“Mothers have disproportionately taken on the burden of caregiving during the pandemic. As a result, they were also more likely to leave the workforce, reduce their working hours, or use the family leave provisions made possible by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. And for parents who were able to work remotely, their parenting status was more important than ever with kids appearing in Zoom or heard in the background.

“My concern is that instead of creating policies to support families, employers will be more likely to discriminate against mothers because they will see them as less engaged in their work,” he said.

Discrimination in hiring: can mothers be ideal workers?

Previous research on employer discrimination against mothers in the hiring process has focused exclusively on women with a college education in professional and managerial jobs. It was not known whether less educated mothers navigating the low-wage labor market experience similar disadvantages.

To study discrimination in the labor market, Ishizuka conducted a field experiment in which he submitted 2,210 fictitious applications for low-paying and professional / managerial jobs in six US cities. For each post, he submitted two applications of similar qualification. The only difference was that one application included signals of motherhood, such as volunteer work from the Parent Teacher Association, while the other application – also for a candidate – listed volunteer work in an organization that was not related. to parenthood.

In all occupations, recall rates were significantly lower for mothers than for women without children. In low-wage service jobs, 26.7% of childless women received a recall compared to 21.5% for mothers. Likewise, 22.6% of childless candidates were recalled for professional and managerial positions, against 18.4% for mothers.

“The results demonstrate that discrimination is not limited to women with university degrees in time-intensive occupations,” Ishizuka said. “In all segments of the labor market, mothers seem to be at a disadvantage at the hiring stage as well. “

And estimates of discrimination against mothers are probably conservative because applicants without children do not report that they are not parents, Ishizuka said. Some employers are likely to assume that these applicants also have children.

According to Ishizuka, discrimination against mothers is likely the result of a conflict between the perceived time commitments necessary to be a “good mother” and an ideal worker. While many professionals and managers are expected to work permanently, low-paid service workers are increasingly expected to work in companies. any time, he said.

“Cultural norms that mothers will take primary responsibility for children are in direct conflict with norms that workers should be free from family obligations,” Ishizuka said. “Employers often question mothers’ commitment and ability to work long or variable hours and to travel. Not surprisingly, fathers do not face the same questions.

Ishizuka also found evidence that employers discriminate against mothers more heavily when certain demands are listed in job postings. In the study, the likelihood of mothers receiving a callback was 5.7, 6.6, and 13.6 percentage points lower when time constraints, collaboration, and travel, respectively, were listed in the offers. professional / managerial jobs.

“In addition to time pressure, collaboration demands limit flexibility in when and where work is done, forcing workers to be surrounded by more workers and customers at times. precise, ”Ishizuka said.

“If employers assume that mothers will be less able to meet inflexible time demands, they may more strongly discriminate against mothers when jobs require collaboration. These types of job requirements are especially common in professional and management professions.

In low-paying service jobs, employers appear to similarly discriminate against mothers, whether non-standard hours – such as nights or weekends – are required. However, when job advertisements indicated unstable schedules, mothers were 10.1 percentage points less likely to receive a callback than women without children.

Do 40-hour work weeks push mothers out of the workforce?

In another article, Ishizuka and her co-author Kelly Musick of Cornell University investigated how the structure and remuneration of working hours shape gender inequalities in the labor market. Using individual data from recent and nationally representative panels of the Income and Program Participation Survey, as well as job characteristics data from the American Community Survey, Ishizuka and Musick have Examined the effect of job inflexibility on the employment of new mothers, fathers and childless women.

They found that women who worked in occupations with a higher proportion of working 40 or more hours per week and occupations that paid higher wage premiums for longer hours before a first birth were significantly less likely to be. employed after birth. They found no similar relationship between rigid working hours and employment for fathers or childless women.

The likelihood of mothers working after birth was highly dependent on their pre-birth occupation. Among women in flexible jobs – defined as those that were 1 standard deviation below the average in inflexibility of working hours – an estimated 79.2% of women continued to work after birth. In contrast, only 67.6% of women in rigid occupations – those who were one standard deviation below the average in rigid working hours – continued to work after childbirth.

“[The] the results illustrate how individual employment decisions are jointly constrained by the structure of the labor market and persistent gender-specific cultural norms regarding family support and caregiving, ”the authors write.

“The inflexibility of working hours generates a work-family conflict that ultimately pushes mothers out of the labor market. “

The results are important because even short-term work interruptions can lead to substantial long-term salary and career costs and make it difficult for mothers to find future employment. Workplace policies and structures that allow more mothers to keep their jobs after birth could make a difference to close the gender pay gap.

Part-time work is not a viable option in most careers, Ishizuka says, as the health insurance provided by the company depends on full-time work and hourly rates are often significantly reduced for part-time employees. partial.

In contrast, many European countries have reduced their standard full-time workweek to a more family-friendly range of less than 40 hours. In addition, employees in these countries have the right to reduce their working hours without fear of losing their job or being discriminated against. It is no coincidence that female employment is higher in countries with policies that promote flexible working hours.

“Our research shows that gendered work patterns at home and in the labor market continue to be shaped by cultural norms that primarily link fatherhood to full-time employment and motherhood to intensive, life-centered care. ‘child.”

Comments are closed.