Kids, Hubby, Household: What Really Holds Back Working Mothers

November 24, 2014  |  

Working mothers have a lot to juggle–career, husband, kids, household. But believe it or not, these a major stressors are not usually the ones that actually derail professional women.

Careers of women are most affected by gender stereotypes that say mothers are better able than fathers to care for children. According to a new study, this translates into companies giving men more career advantages than women.

“We found that most women graduate from Harvard Business School expecting their career to be as important as their partners’, but many end up in partnerships in which their husband’s career takes precedence,” says co-author Robin J. Ely, a professor of business administration at HBS.

Ely, HBS colleague Colleen Ammerman, and Hunter College sociologist Pamela Stone looked at Harvard Business School 25,000 male and female grads. Ely tells Yahoo Parenting, that the disadvantage is “far more likely a combination of cultural messages about mothers being better caregivers than fathers, and organizational practices that give men an economic advantage.”

The study found that “male grads were much more likely to be in senior management positions, while high-achieving women were more likely to report that they hadn’t met the career goals they set for themselves in their 20s,” reports Yahoo. And, among Gen X and Baby Boomers, only 11 percent of women had left the workforce to become full-time moms. This figure is lower (seven percent) for women of color.

However 50 to 60 percent of the men surveyed were either “extremely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with work experiences, professional accomplishments, opportunities for career growth, and balance of work and personal life. This versus only 40 to 50 percent of women.

Some companies may think working mothers are no longer “players,” may be stigmatized for taking a reduced schedule, and even overlooked for high-profile assignments, according to the researchers. Working mothers are more apt to request a flexible work week, change in duties, decreased travel schedule, or  work-from-home arrangement.

According to Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, no matter how far up a woman has climbed in her career, she’s still responsible for her entire family. And most often the two (high-level positions and family) don’t mix.

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