The Motherhood Penalty — Let's Kick it in the Ass!

Amy Hatch

The Motherhood Penalty - Amy Hatch - Garage Grown Gear

I remember in vivid detail where I was when I first heard this stat: In 2017, a whopping $85 billion was handed out in Venture Capital funding. Of that, only 2.6 percent went to female founders, according to Pitchbook data. Not 20 percent, or 39% percent, which is the number of U.S. businesses owned by females, but 2.6 percent. 

It was on a podcast and I was by the mailboxes at the entrance to our neighborhood. As I made my way toward our house and up our steep driveway, I entered full-body rage.

I screamed at the air around me. I cussed. And I sobbed.

It explained so much. It explained why I had felt belittled so many times during the previous five years as I launched Garage Grown Gear. It explained why time and again I got these pats on my back that basically said, ‘keep at ‘em little girl.’

It wasn’t just being female that was working against me. It was also being a mother.

Multiple studies show the ramifications of what is now called the ‘motherhood penalty.’ 

A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Sociology found: 

The “motherhood penalty” may account for a significant proportion of the gender gap in pay, as the pay gap between mothers and non-mothers could in fact be larger than the pay gap between men and women. 

The findings in this study went on to note:

Mothers suffer a penalty relative to non-mothers and men in the form of lower perceived competence and commitment, higher professional expectations, lower likelihood of hiring and promotion, and lower recommended salaries. This evidence implies that being a mother leads to discrimination in the workplace. 

A subsequent 2010 study published in the Gender & Society examined the perception that mothers are less competent and committed to their jobs by controlling for these two factors. The findings from this study provide a more nuanced — and striking — look at what mothers are up against. 

Women with children seem to face a ‘double-bind’: either they are perceived as warm and likeable, but not competent and committed enough, or, even if they unambiguously show competence and commitment, they are penalized for breaking with traditional gender stereotypes as they are perceived as less warm and more interpersonally hostile.

More recent studies have identified ways mothers can combat this discrimination — such as presenting as the breadwinner and answering preventive questions with promotive answers. As an ambitious mother, these are life-saving tactics to have in my tool belt, and can we just take a moment to notice how crazy it is that we mothers, who are already juggling so much, have to add this layer of intentionality to how we show up and interact with the world at large. 

This undervaluing of women and mothers isn’t limited to the realm of business. I also notice it in my athletic pursuits and within the outdoor industry.

I recently tried out a new gym. As I bounced between instructors trying to figure out who I resonated with, I saw surprise, boarding on shock, on each of their faces, when I off-handedly mentioned I have an eight year old daughter.

News alert: moms can also be wicked fit!

The Motherhood Penalty - Amy Hatch - Garage Grown Gear

And, I haven’t been to Outdoor Retailer, a huge industry gathering that draws tens of thousands of people, in a couple of years in part because I’m over the bro fest that is that event. To be fair, strides have been made — some of them significant — to create a more inclusive environment, but at the end of the day sometimes it’s just plain easier to send in my white cis male business partner (who happens to have a deep-toned voice) to do the negotiating.

Sad. But true.

As we take today to elevate and celebrate the contributions that moms make to our families, our communities, our economies and within so many other realms in life, let’s challenge ourselves to do so meaningfully.

Cards, flowers, brunches and phone calls are nice. And ... there’s a way to make the recognition deeper, broader and much more impactful.

If you’re on a hiring committee, verbalize the unconscious bias against mothers that may be influencing decisions — bring the bias to surface so you can actively combat it.

If you’re having a conversation with a mom about a new business she started, don’t automatically assume that it’s an Etsy or Ebay side gig. Ask her what she wants out of the business. Ask her what her wildest dreams are for the business. And encourage her to visualize herself in the fullness of that reality. (I created this 5-year vision board for GGG in 2016 ↓ . It hangs above my desk, and helps me keep my eye on the big picture dream when I find myself in the weeds.)  

The Motherhood Penalty - Amy Hatch - Garage Grown Gear

If you’re sharing trail beta in a hiking forum, don’t automatically recommend an easy route just because you know you’re talking to a mom. Again ask. As what her comfort level is with the outdoors. Ask what she wants out of the trip. And then go from there.

And, for heaven’s sake, if you’re in a business negotiation with a mother, ask yourself the hard question of how you would respond to the same situation if you were instead ping-ponging back and forth with a man. 

Moms can do hard things (to borrow from Glennon Doyle) — not just kind of sorta, but for real. We can do things that create BIG ‘mic drop’ moments! Let’s start owning that, really owning that! 

If you’re a mom, when someone asks about your hopes and dreams, give them an audacious answer.

For example, my dream is to write a book and be interviewed about it by Trevor Noah. It may happen. It may not. That’s not the point. The point is that I get to have an incredibly ambitious dream and I get to go after it with everything I’ve got and I get to do it while being a kickass woman and mother. 

It’s in that spirit that — today and everyday — I honor Mother’s Day. 


P.S. A big shout out to Shannon Corsi and the New Maps Project for these wonderful photos! 

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