Motherhood penalties refer to biases that women confront after they have children. An abundance of research finds that women, particularly those in highly skilled professional occupations, face penalties ranging from loss of high-status assignments, relegation to “mommy track” schedules and a loss of wages and promotions. Bias against mothers often manifests in the form of Flexibility Stigma, which refers to stereotypes that workers who need flexible work arrangements are less productive and committed. These penalties are particularly intense in professional jobs, including law, where face time is considered a proxy measure of productivity.
Nationally, women report that they experience significant motherhood penalties after having children. Research finds the impact of motherhood, however, varies by race and ethnicity due to racial stereotypes regarding the “ideal mother.” Traditional gender stereotypes view White middle-class mothers as the primary caretakers of children, while women of color are assumed to be the primary economic providers for children. These stereotypes contribute to different expectations regarding employment: White mothers are often viewed as secondary earners who are less committed to their careers, whereas women of color are expected to sustain employment interrupted by motherhood.
I was never asked to go out of town because what they called my ‘family situation.' I presume that’s because I had a very young child though another male associate has a child six months older than mine and he was never excluded. I think they thought they were being nice. I think they thought I needed to be home because I was breastfeeding...or they thought that by not asking me to do that work they were helping me out. And the downside of that being that then I didn’t get assigned as many cases and I didn’t have enough work.
These stereotypes and expectations often shape the experiences of mothers in the workplace, leading to greater wage penalties for White mothers compared to Black and Latinx mothers. In Utah, 21% of White women and 14% women of color perceived that having children negatively impacted their colleagues’ perception of their career commitment and competence, compared to 5% of men.
With regard to Flexibility Stigma, over half of women lawyers nationally (57% of White women and 50% of women of color) reported that taking family leave would negatively impact their careers. Similarly, a significant proportion of men (42% of White men and 47% of men of color) also believed that taking family leave would result in negative career outcomes. In Utah, however, only 21% of White men reported that taking family leave would be detrimental to their career. Yet over a third of women (37% of White women and 33% of women of color) indicated concern that taking leave would harm their careers. It appears that Flexibility Stigma is lower in Utah than it is nationally, possibly indicating that Utah is a more family-friendly work environment generally.