The Right Way to Answer the Motherhood Penalty

Pregnant nurse walking up the hospital stairs

Last month, a bunch of nurses (nine to be exact) from a single hospital labor-and-delivery unit made news for being pregnant at the same time

Apart from the obvious (babies!), why did this make us so happy? 

For that you have to go back to the Modern Family Index (MFI) studies we’ve done about the Motherhood Penalty, and what it’s like to tell the boss you’re pregnant. 

Lots of women say they’re afraid.

Many have told us it holds back careers. 

Women (and men) say an impending-arrival announcement can change whole professional trajectories. 

Instead of celebration – they get scorn. 

And it’s not getting any better. 

“We Really Have to Change the Way We Think About This”

“I keep wanting to believe we’ve evolved,” said our CHRO Maribeth Bearfield on an episode of our podcast, The Work/Life Equation. She says the number of women afraid to tell the boss they’re pregnant has not only not gone up – it’s actually doubled (doubled!) in five years. 

“There are women who are still penalized for being working mothers,” she said. It comes up in meetings. It comes up in promotions. It even comes up in evaluations where supervisors factor a woman’s at-home responsibilities (“she has three children!”) into whether she can be a leader. “We would never say that about a father,” said Maribeth. All this despite the fact that the same studies show people believe motherhood makes women better at their jobs. 

“We really have to change the way we think about this,” said Maribeth. 

Employers Supporting Working Moms

Which leads us back to those moms in Maine.

When those nine nurses announced they were having babies, the hospital shared the happy news on Facebook. 

They boasted about it in the press. 

They answered questions about staffing with, “Don't worry! We have a plan."

The hospital could have expressed frustration. Instead, the nurses’ bigger than big news – “How’s this for a baby boom?” read the hospital’s post, “Nine of our nurses (8 of whom are in this photo) are expecting babies between April and July!” -- earned unconditional support, and the one-and-only word all expectant parents want to hear.

“Congratulations!”

“It is important for managers and colleagues of working mothers to make a concerted effort to not view having children as a roadblock for career progression,” Maribeth told CNBC recently. “Instead, they need to be embraced.”

And in at least one hospital in Maine, they are. 

Congratulations, ladies!

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

April 10, 2019

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.