How I’ve Been Combatting The “Mommy Tax”
One week till Halloween, and this year I am pretty excited to be celebrating it with my little one. In case you’re curious, he’s going as a pineapple and daddy is going as a dragon, so together they’ll be a dragonfruit 😉 #momjoke
Not sure how I’ll fit into the mix, but if you have costume ideas for me lemme know!
Parenthood is filled with fun moments like celebrating Halloween, but it also has some challenging ones, like dealing with the mommy tax.
What the mommy tax?
Ann Crittenden in her book, The Price of Motherhood states:
The “mommy tax” is the highest tax on families. A couple with a total income of $81,500, and two equally capable partners, could lose as much as $1,350,000 in lifetime income if they have a child. The wage gap between mothers and childless women under age 35 is now greater than that between young men and women.
Moms often forgo earnings or career advancement opportunities in favor of childrearing activities. Those who opt to lean in aren’t guaranteed immunity from the tax. They might still have periods where their career stagnates or they aren’t compensated equal to their male counterparts. Even maternity leave in the US is often not full compensated and the length varies depending on the state.
Contrast that to the daddy bonus, additional income fathers receive based on the strongly held cultural view that fathers with children need more money to support their family.
Gender pay gap
As you’re probably well aware there is already a gender pay gap across the board. The gender pay gap for women in tech depends on factors like age, ethnicity, job function, and of course how likely a woman is to negotiate.
How likely are women to negotiate? Well, Comparably did a study about a year ago surveying people in tech asking if they negotiated their first job offer. Here’s a snapshot of the results:
The study also showcased how negotiating changed over time. In the graph below you see people who are early in their career tend to negotiate less.
They also illustrated how negotiation varies across ethnicity in this graph:
If you’re curious to learn more, you can read the full post here.
The combination of the gender pay gap and not negotiating only exacerbates the mommy tax.
The mommy tax doesn’t just impact moms and families, it also impacts hiring managers, and people who are looking to recruit and retain women in tech.
Being conscious of the unconscious demotion
An unconscious demotion is when someone, usually a boss or manager, or even hiring manager, makes a decision for you under the guise of being considerate. An example is them thinking, “Oh Poornima probably wants to stay at home with her little one, let’s not burden her by asking her to go to Europe for a week.” Or, “Poornima is probably really tired from maternity leave, let’s not give her a stretch assignment.”
Instead of asking their employee if they are interested and available, they automatically assume the person wouldn’t be interested.
As this continues to happen more often, top performing moms are surely to be turned off, and seek employment elsewhere, spurring high turnover rates.
Exploring the promotion or stretch assignment
Conversely, there are some bosses and managers who believe their employee can handle a promotion or stretch assignment. Instead of having the conversation of exploring what it would look like or even have a trial period, some new moms opt out altogether out of fear that it’s going to be too much to juggle.
I’ve learned to instead take the time to explore what a new role or promotion would look like, by asking specific questions like:
- What are the expectations around time commitment?
- What is the nature of the work?
- What does the day-to-day look like?
- Will I receive any additional coaching or mentorship?
- Will I have any direct reports?
- Is it possible to scope out the work?
- What are the deadlines?
- Can we do a trial period for a quarter?
Finally, I don’t volunteer to stay at the current pay during this trial period, but ask to get paid for the new work.
I always ask AND ask for more!
One of my good friends told me to make a list of nonnegotiables. It contains a list of what I absolutely need in order to say yes to an opportunity and includes things like how many days a week I am willing to commute, how far of a commute I am willing to make, and what my responsibilities are.
To hold myself accountable, I always open up the doc when I know I am about to have a conversation that will turn into a negotiation.
Some people will have weird reactions to your ask. They may say things like, “Ooh that’s aggressive!” Or, “I’m not sure we have a budget for that.”
My only response to each of these statements is, “Well, I’d appreciate if you could check.”
I also don’t care if people call me greedy. I know I’m not. I am accounting for what I need to not have to worry about money, and to focus on doing good work.
Be OK with taking things away
I recently had a client who didn’t have a budget to pay the full amount of my ASK. I sensed they were also giving me an unconscious demotion because they were concerned about how much work I’d be able to do post-maternity leave, but they were keen to try things out. So I scoped the project down to hit their budget and asked if that would work for them. They agreed that it would.
Why I limit freebies — hint: because they aren’t really free!
I’ve built up a speaking portfolio having given hundreds of talks around the world. The majority of them were free. Unfortunately, I am no longer in a position to speak for free more than a couple times a year, because it’s technically not free. I have to pay for childcare to have time to prep my talk, travel to the venue and deliver my talk.
I might not be Bill Gates, Bill Clinton or even Oprah, but that doesn’t mean my time and expertise isn’t valuable. So if someone is going to be making money off of my expertise such as conference by selling tickets or company having people pay to view my content, then I do expect to be compensated. Exposure is great but doesn’t pay the bills.
I consider childcare an investment
I know a lot of new moms worry about the cost of childcare. They compare it to how much money they are earning and may make the decision to pause for a period of time. I understand this is a personal decision that every family has to make.
For myself, I view childcare as an investment. I’m investing in myself: my continued career growth, and my ability to continue to make money. Call me paranoid, but even though I have a partner and our marriage is stable, I worry about being able to support myself long term. I also want to actively contribute to our mortgage and my child’s college fund.
There are two women in my life who taught me two valuable lessons about juggling motherhood and a career. The first was my mom who told me from a very young age, “Always stand on your own two feet!”
And my mother-in-law, who told her mother-in-law why she was going back to work six weeks after having her first child: “So your grandson can go to college.”
I’m fortunate to have these two women in my corner who get it.
Am I tired? You bet! I work fewer hours than I did before I had my baby, but I do my best to make those hours count by looking at my task list and making sure I am spending 80% or more of my time doing growth work, and that it generates income. All other work either gets put on the back burner, delegated, or automated.
And since I am limited on time, I aim to have no more than two projects that are experiments.
These are a few ways that I am combatting the mommy tax on my own. I’m curious to hear about yours, so let me know in the comments below!
Got questions for me?
Feel free to let me know in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them! And subscribe to my weekly newsletter here if you’d like to receive additional posts like this one.
Enjoyed this post and want more?
Help others enjoy it too by hitting the ! Check out these additional resources on managing parenthood and your career:
- My favorite tech salary negotiation tip (that recruiters love, too) by Karen Catlin
- DevelopHer founded by Lauren R. Hasson
- As a new mom — I take all the help I can get!
- How To Pause For Parenthood Without Killing Your Career
- How To Change Careers Later In Life And Transition Into A Technical Role
- Sramana Mitra’s book Feminine Feminism: I read this when it first came out in 2013 and have to say it was pretty eye-opening!
- The Motherhood Penalty vs. The Fatherhood Bonus