Work Life Balance

Mothers Are Willing To Pay For Their Work-Life Balance, But Salary Discrepancies Don’t Often Make Sense

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shutterstock_94654597The statistics that show women getting paid less than their male counterparts are indeed disheartening. Whatever bias that exists from the days prior to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 is nothing short of gross.

The story is, however, more complicated than the $0.77/$1.00 pay gap reveals — but it’s also not quite as simple as the author of a recent Time article asserts either.

The recent headlines miss an important part of the work-life balance story: plenty of working mothers are earning less than men because they want the sort of jobs and working arrangements which indeed pay less.

We spill a lot of ink trying to account for this seeming failure: corporate America doesn’t do enough for families (undoubtedly true). Government doesn’t do enough for families. (Ditto.) But there’s a certain condescension in these explanations, as if we can’t quite believe a woman knows her own mind.

Yes and no.

At my last legal job, I willingly volunteered to make less money than my male counterparts in order to be granted the flexibility to spend more time at home with my children. It didn’t feel good knowing I was getting paid less to do essentially the same work, but I was buying my way out of being on-call and available 24/7 and that was worth something to me. If time is money, then the trade-off made sense in the short run.

Apparently I am not alone in this (flawed or incomplete) thinking.

According to a recent Pew poll, 67% of all mothers would ideally forego full-time work in favor of working part-time (47%) or not at all (20%). By contrast, only 25% of fathers would choose part-time work (15%) or not to work (10%). Among all women who describe themselves as “financially comfortable,” only 31% would ideally work full-time and another 34% wouldn’t work at all. And among married mothers, only 23 percent would ideally like to work full-time. These are large percentages of different types of women who would choose family or personal priorities over full-time employment.

However none of these statistics aren’t nuanced enough to paint the full portrait.  Women willing to get paid less than men typically shouldn’t have to or might not be able to foresee all that sacrifice entails.  We get a rough idea that women want to work part-time because they value their home and/or personal lives, but it’s not clear what they are willing to give up.  Salary is one aspect, but financial considerations go deeper. What about promotions and raises? Discretionary bonuses? I expected to be evaluated based on my own work product and not someone else’s work habits. I realized quickly this was a mistake and not how the company worked.

Also a factor? My part-time work hardly led to less number of deals, they simply took a little longer to close since I wouldn’t be working through dinnertime. By the end of a year I wasn’t closing any less than my male counterparts, or certainly not something that resembled the difference in our salaries. Now that pay cut I agreed to felt like a really bad deal for me. Given my personal experience, I just can’t get behind the author’s conclusion 100%.

We should stop limiting what women and men value by insisting that everyone has the same work aspirations. Some of us don’t want to spend the most productive and precious years of our lives trapped at the water cooler with our ‘work spouses,’ and we’re willing to pay the price.

It’s true there is currently a price to pay for work-life balance, but it doesn’t mean we should have to contest with companies trying to take advantage of that desire to achieve balance by valuing facetime with real dollars that affect our bottom lines.  I would love to see salaries that reflected actual work product rather than time spent at the office – for men, women and parents alike.

(photo: KarSol/Shutterstock)