Working Moms with MBAs Pay a Price

Women with business degrees face salary decreases after motherhood.


We’ve all heard about the pay gap: Women earn less money than men. The reasons aren’t just sexism, although that likely plays a role. Contributing factors also include the fact that men and women pursue different fields and have different career ambitions; women are less likely to negotiate their salaries and ask for raises; and women are more likely to take breaks from the workforce to care for children and aging parents.

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But here’s another twist: Mothers might face the steepest pay gap of all. According to a new study from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, which surveyed hundreds of recent graduates, mothers had less job experience, more job breaks, and shorter work hours. Men also tended to pursue lucrative finance courses and earn higher grade point averages.

The main difference that played the biggest role in creating a gender pay gap came down to factors that women have control over: career interruptions and weekly hours worked. In other words, women cut back on their work schedules in order to take care of their children.

Men, on the other hand, don’t experience the same pay decline when they become fathers. In fact, fatherhood had no effect on men’s earnings, work hours, or career interruptions. (Other studies have found that men’s income actually increases on average when they become fathers, perhaps because they feel more pressure to support their growing brood.)

What’s the takeaway message here? To me, it’s that working mothers still need better options that make it easier to combine work and family. While many workplaces offer flexibility in the form of telecommuting or negotiable work hours, women with MBAs who work in competitive companies clearly still find it difficult to put in the required hours while being full-time moms, too. I wonder if greater workplace flexibility would diminish the pay gap between mothers and fathers.

When I was reporting on my previous story on The New Mommy Track – before I became a working mom myself, and learned first-hand how difficult it can be – I spoke with experts who offered these suggestions:

[See Why Some Women Skirt the Wage Gap.]

Don’t feel guilty: If you’ve arranged that you’ll leave by 5pm every day, then try not to feel badly when you have to leave a meeting early. Guilt eats up your valuable (and limited) energy.

Suggest a trial period: When proposing a flexible schedule or working from home, suggesting a trial period can make it easier for your boss to agree to the plan, because she has an out if she feels it’s not working.

Earn it: If you prove yourself to be a productive worker, then your boss will want to keep you. Make sure you demonstrate how essential you are before asking for flexibility.

Ask for help at home: The partners of working moms play a big role in making their lives easier by taking on more responsibilities at home, including child care and household management duties.

What did I miss? Please add your own suggestions below.