The Real Connection Between Parenthood and Promotions

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You've heard of the dad bonus and the wage gap — now get ready for the parenthood penalty. It's no secret that the choice to start a family has a huge effect on anyone's career. Americans are having their first children later and later in life, in part to give themselves a strong career foundation before undertaking the expense and upheaval of parenting. Yet even those trying to make responsible choices can lose out, thanks to systems and work cultures that devalue boundaries and balance.


Chris Morris, writing for CNBC, cites a study from the U.K. finding that working part-time because of parenting more than halves one's chances of promotion over a period of three years. That may raise objections — of course a part-time worker is less likely to get promoted — but per Morris, "Parents who temporarily exit the workforce to spend time with their children are only half as likely to get a job interview than those who have been laid off."

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Ultimately, these issues are connected to workplace flexibility and the ideal worker norm more than employee commitment or talent. Given the skills it takes to raise children, parents could demand much bigger salaries if properly supported. Yet the notion of taking parental leave is so contraindicated by most workplace cultures, even the most powerful CEOs won't step away from their companies when they should. Norms only change when challenged, which doesn't have to be flashy. Simply insisting on what you're contractually owed can help the whole company step up.