Mind the ethnicity motherhood pay gap

“Becoming a mother impacts a woman’s income for the rest of her life. For Black and minoritised women, this motherhood pay penalty is compounded by existing ethnicity pay gaps and the intersection of gender-based and racial inequalities at work.”

A report on the impact of motherhood on career and pay progression has been released. Analysing data spanning nearly 30 years, the Fawcett Society considered the intersection of gender, ethnicity and motherhood to understand their effect on the pay penalty throughout the employment lifecycle and beyond. 

The results make for difficult reading and provide a timely reminder that deeply ingrained biases continue to exist in the workforce. 

The headlines

The key takeaway from the report is the clear negative pay and career spiral experienced by mothers. The trends observed are not new (see, for example, Pregnant Then Screwed’s recent findings that 52% of all mothers have faced some form of discrimination). However, the report offers a rare insight into how sexism and racism interact to amplify inequalities during motherhood.  

Findings include: 

  • Mothers with two children take home 26% less income than women without children. The motherhood pay penalty increases to around 45% over the medium to long term.
  • Mothers of all ethnicities (except those of Chinese and Black Caribbean heritage) experience a penalty in hourly pay compared to women of the same ethnicity with no dependents.
  • Motherhood has the smallest impact on the employment levels of white women with 5% leaving the workforce altogether. Larger impacts are seen in Pakistani and Bangladeshi mothers where 17% leave, Chinese mothers where 11% leave, and Black African mothers where 10% leave. 
  • Black African mothers were the least likely to be offered flexible working at the point when their child was 9 to 10 months old, with 19% reporting that they had no access to such arrangements compared to 7% of white mothers. 
  • Black and minoritised workers are more likely to consider leaving their jobs due to lack of flexibility than white workers (32% as opposed to 21%).
  • The trajectory for fathers is quite different – whilst women’s pay often decreases with motherhood, men’s appears to increase (a so-called ‘fatherhood bonus’). In fact, men with at least two children are paid 22% more than those without. 
Food for thought

Unsurprisingly, the report finds that the causes of the motherhood pay gap are wide-ranging, including bias and discrimination, lack of flexible working, unequal parental leave, and the predominance of mothers in insecure, part-time, or low paid work. As the evidence suggests these issues are compounded by existing ethnicity pay gaps and structural sexism and racism, it is important for employers to consider their approach to tackling them through an intersectional lens.

Whilst the report calls for ethnicity pay reporting to become mandatory, the government has recently confirmed that it has no intention to do so (see our EmploymentLinks blog here). Nonetheless, many employers voluntarily calculate their ethnicity pay gap to enable them to take evidence-based action to address pay gaps and demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”). 

With DEI so fundamentally linked to culture, employers will need to consider how to instil long-term cultural change where motherhood is supported. As a starting point, answers to the following questions may help to identify where barriers may exist in an organisation:

  • Data collection: Do you collect diversity data across all employees? Are you fully capitalising on your diversity data to implement targeted initiatives? Have you considered reporting on your ethnicity pay gap? 
  • Flexible working: What is your approach to flexible working? Is it approached with an open mind, or is your default position to reject requests? Are employees empowered to work flexibly or part-time? 
  • Unconscious bias: Are managers aware of the risks of unconscious bias and stereotyping on the grounds of race and sex? Is there a need for training? 
  • Raise awareness: Are employees aware of the parental leave and flexible working options available to them? Do managers lead by example? 
  • Policies: Do you have clear, up to date policies on anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and equal opportunities? Are complaints properly investigated and appropriate action taken? 

To find out how the Linklaters Diversity Faculty can help to embed DEI into your business, please get in touch.

We explore more about intersectionality and the role it plays in a diverse and inclusive workplace in our podcast series available here