Skilled Working Mothers Are Passed Over for Leadership Positions

We’ve often heard about the so-called “motherhood penalty.” Women are “penalized” for having families, while men are not—or at least not to the same degree.


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For women, this penalty can come in the form of reduced lifetime earnings and being passed over for promotions. The causes are often assumed to relate to the perception of different priorities among women.

Moms Make Great Leaders

Surprisingly, given these commonly held beliefs, a majority of employees actually think that women with children are better leaders than men with children or those with no children.
That’s according to a recent survey by Bright Horizons, which found that 89% of American workers agree that working moms in leadership roles bring out the best in employees.
When compared with men with children or people without children, respondents also said they found working mothers to be:

  • More diplomatic (47%)
  • Better listeners (65%)
  • Calmer in a crisis (51%)
  • Better team players (44%)

Those are certainly necessary attributes for leaders in any industry.

But Penalties Persist

Despite the positive view of motherhood’s impact on leadership—or at least the correlation between the two—a majority of working moms and dads believe that working mothers are penalized in their careers because of their family statuses.
The Bright Horizons survey says that 72% of working moms and dads agree that women are punished for starting families, while men are not.
However, despite possessing what their peers view as qualities that make for strong leaders, working moms find they come up against roadblocks at work.
Although surprising, these findings may reflect changing attitudes toward working mothers that have yet to fully erase decades of obstacles facing them. Perhaps in time, attitudes around the leadership traits of working mothers will be more aligned with perceptions of their career opportunities.

Leveraging Leadership Talent

All companies need strong leaders, and arguably, few really care whether those leaders are male or female. But penalties persist. What steps can your organization take to identify strong leadership traits and lift leaders up—male and female?

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