4 Ways Mothers Face Discrimination At Work (and What To Do)

4 subtle and blatant ways mothers face discrimination at work and what we can do about it


The days leading up to Mother’s Day are often filled with sweet commercials, photo-sharing and gift buying.  But we often forget in the midst of celebrating the amazing mothers in our lives,  all of the hardships mothers face while at work.

Everyone is quick to celebrate the women in their lives who started a family, but often those same women face unmatched discrimination in the workplace. The respect and admiration for mothers don’t seem to translate from the home to the office.

Here are four subtle and blatant ways mothers are discriminated against in the workplace:

1. Mothers often have their commitments challenged at work.

Harvard Business Review surveyed women of color who work in STEM and found that two-thirds of them faced questioning about their competence. The women also said they experienced a limit in opportunities.

2. The parent-pay gap

Fathers who live with their children often experience the phenomenon known as the “fatherhood bonus.” Michelle J. Budig, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst found that most men received a six percent wage increase.  The study also stated that this fatherhood bonus is larger for white men and Latinos, professional workers, the highly educated, and for those whose occupations involve higher levels of cognitive complexity.

Of course Budig also concluded “that the fatherhood “bonus” is not equal across the income distribution; in fact it is much greater for men at the top,” reported Thirdway.org.

Meanwhile, mothers that have children in their hope often get the  “motherhood penalty.” Where each child cost a mothers who work.

“While the gender pay gap has been decreasing, the pay gap related to parenthood is increasing,” Budig stated.

Much like the father counterparts, there is a income-disparity. Mothers at the top barely see a motherhood penalty at all. But at the bottom, low income suffer significantly. In other words says Budig, “the women who least can afford it, pay the largest proportionate penalty for motherhood.”

3. Mothers are constantly pitted against other female colleagues.

The same Harvard Business Review study revealed that one-fifth of the women surveyed felt they were competing with their female colleagues for the “woman’s spot.”

Executive coach and speaker Bonnie Marcus said,

“Female rivalry is fueled by a workplace culture that does not provide a level playing field for women, equal pay, and/or equal opportunity for women to reach leadership positions. Women are set up to compete. They are set up to compete with each other because only so many women are tapped for the C-suite.”

4. Mothers fear getting fired, reprimanded or blacklisted if they speak out about inequality.

An article by Fast Company found that mothers often hide their motherhood from their colleagues or mute parts of  themselves on their personal social media platforms.

Hillary Frank, host of “The Longest Shortest Time” podcast, told Fast Company:

“We just got a comment today—and this shouldn’t have been surprising—but it came from a mom who said, ‘I really want to share this video, but I’m afraid that as soon as I do I’m going to get in trouble at work.’ I hadn’t thought about that. I was like, yeah, we moms can all get mad and share some video and raise awareness. But I can totally see why it could be read that way. And so, I think that’s part of why we really need non-moms to help spread the word about this, and realize that this isn’t just the mommy problem.”

So what can mothers and allies do to combat these varied forms of discrimination?


Build a supportive network to protect your peace of mind and reputation. Who’s in your current network? Who are the influencers inside your company and within your industry? Key stakeholders? A sponsor or mentor can change the trajectory of one’s career.

When women mentor other women it’s not only changing the stereotype that women are cutt-throat with other  women, it also builds important bonds women need in order to thrive in male-dominated industries.

Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operation Officer of Facebook and author of “Lean In” believes,

“When women celebrate each other’s accomplishments, they’re seen as more professional and accomplished as well. So supporting other women helps each other, helps women as a group, and also helps the woman that does it.”

Non-moms must speak out when they see or sense that discrimination, sexism or inequality is happening. Men, especially you. Heard an inappropriate comment? Don’t be afraid to pull that person off to the side. Women are often not allowed to “check” men on their misbehavior without  fear. Men, use your privilege to make the workplace safer for women.


Inact educational programs for the workforce, but especially leadership.  Discrimination, toxic culture, sexism and inequality happens from the top down. Training should include the business rewards but most importantly the moral and ethical benefits of a safer, more inclusive organization.

Give mothers support and resources. Mothers should not be penalized for starting a family. Mothers should also be  paid their worth. In fact, studies show when employees feel valued, receive adequate health care and medical leave they are more productive and more likely to stay at the company. Which means less turnover cost, better workplace culture and increased employee engagement.


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