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June 05, 2013 Practice Points

When Women Become Mothers

By Emily Wessel Farr

Warren Buffett recently made headlines when he stated the obvious: when you “use 50 percent of our human capacity,” rather than 100 percent, you lose.  In a guest column forFortune, the Oracle of Omaha implored men to bet on women as the next big thing.  Mr. Buffett’s predictions may come off as simplistic.  After all, he states that America has forged its success “while utilizing, in large part, only half of the country’s talent”—forgetting that perhaps it is recognition, not utilization, women lacked.  However, Mr. Buffett’s intentions are good.  Hitching his star to Sheryl Sandberg’s wagon, Mr. Buffett champions the potential for women, and observes that women (even the likes of the late Katharine Graham of publishing fame, whom he affectionately calls, “Kay”), unlike their male counterparts, often let self-doubt creep in, with career-limiting results.  In an attempt to encourage, Mr. Buffett urges women to “never forget that it is common for powerful and seeming self-assured males to have more than a bit of the Wizard of Oz in them.”

However, even the most self-assured may face another challenge Mr. Buffett does not address: motherhood.  As a study published last year by the National Institute of Health observed, while mothers and non-mothers make similar investments in their education and career along the way, they are penalized once they are in the family way.  A recent article by The New Yorker highlighted the issue.  American mothers suffer a five percent wage penalty for each child.  American mothers earn less than their childless, female peers, and for reasons often unrelated to maternity leave, flexible work schedules, and other time away from the office.  A study by Yale University found that, when faced with fictitious job candidates with equal qualifications and experience, mothers were judged to be less competent and committed to work than women without children.  The fictitious mothers were, not surprisingly, passed over for their childless peers.  

While the study suggested that the perceived demands of childrearing may be to blame, fathers are actually offered higher starting salaries than their childless male peers.  When a father is seen as a more stable hire, and a mother is seen as a more risky hire, it begs the question: Do women doubt themselves, or are employers doing it for them?


Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, pregnancy, gender, pay career, mothers

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