Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article on female CEOs with children. 11 of the current 12 female Fortune 500 Company CEOs are mothers.
The story highlights two points that made their careers possible: 1) CEO moms receive extensive support from their husbands who are willing to scale back their own career aspirations when their wife faces better career opportunities; 2) the time-consuming work situation, which includes frequent business trips, limits CEO mom’s ability to be actively engaged in their children’s after-school activities. Basically, these women trade in child-raising for bringing home a bigger piece of bacon than their husbands might have brought home.
Bacon is bacon. What the story shows is that, whether it’s the mother or father who chooses to be the primary care-taker doesn’t really matter. Families with children face that choice alike. It’s a sign of progress that women are no longer by default the ones to primarily raise children. However, that doesn’t mean that women who choose to take on that role need governmental intervention to be relieved from the “wage penalty” that comes with parenthood, as proponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act would argue.
The motherhood wage penalty is a natural outcome of taking time off to raise children, not a result of gender-based discrimination. A story in the Calgary Herald features Lawyer Megan Cornell from Ottawa who took a six-month leave for each of her two children and faces a wage gap compared to her colleagues.
But she’s not claiming unfair discrimination. She said salaries at her law firm, Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall, reflect the amount of business each lawyer brings in. Cornell said her time away had the predictable effect of interrupting her own process of building a client base. “I think it’s pretty objective in my case,” she said. “I don’t judge that any of it’s personal. It’s just the unfortunate reality of being the person who has the child and takes the leave — your career is going to be disrupted for a period of time.”
Rather, employers who offer women and men the flexible working arrangements that they require to balance family-life and career will attract more talent in the long run, and will, in turn, provide incentives for other employers to follow. Sylvia Ann Hewlett writes in the Financial Times Women at the Top section:
Forward-thinking employers are taking heed. A growing number have created imaginative options that allow for more flexible career paths. BT’s “Achieving the Balance”, for example, provides a portfolio of flexible working solutions including working at home, part-time, job-sharing, flexi-hours, and term-time working. The result: 96 per cent of BT women return to work following maternity leave. Goldman Sachs’ “New Directions” and “Returnship” initiatives offer both guidance and coaching for off-rampers to return to work successfully, as well as a way for talented individuals to restart their careers after an extended absence. Cisco’s “Extended Flex” allows workers to take unpaid breaks of 12-24 months for any reason, whether it is further extending maternity leave, caring for an ailing parent or simply taking a break.
If passed in the next Senate session, the Paycheck Fairness Act, a proposed legislation to address the infamous gender wage gap, could mean that such flexible working arrangements become history. The Act would authorize regulations that require employers to collect and report pay information data on their employee’s sex, race, and national origin to allow the Department of Labor to issue guidelines regarding fair pay. The resulting guidelines establishing “comparable worth” would likely give employers incentives to set pay structures more rigidly in order to avoid being charged with gender-based, or any other form of, discrimination. Less flexible working arrangements would be a huge step back for working men and women.