The Parenthood Penalty: How Women Pay the Price

Becoming a parent is undoubtedly one of life’s greatest joys, but it often comes with significant challenges, especially for women.

While both men and women experience changes in their professional and personal lives after having children, women, unfortunately, tend to bear the brunt of what is commonly referred to as the "parenthood penalty."

From diminished career prospects to the gender pay gap, the impact of parenthood on women’s lives is multifaceted and pervasive. In this blog, we delve into the various ways in which women face penalties in their careers and beyond due to parenthood.

Women account for 47% of the global workforce. Claims such as “stay-at-home women are happier” no longer stick. The employment gap between men and women is not because women want to stay home.

On the contrary, around 69.8% of women say they’d prefer having a paid job rather than staying at home, and 66.5% of men agree with them, male vs female employment statistics reveal.

Career Progression and Opportunities

One of the most prominent effects of parenthood on women is the stunted career progression they often experience. Despite advancements in gender equality in the workplace, women still disproportionately shoulder the responsibilities of childcare and household duties. As a result, they are more likely to take extended leave or reduce their working hours to accommodate their caregiving responsibilities.

These career interruptions can have long-term consequences, including missed opportunities for promotions, skill stagnation, and a widening of the gender pay gap. Research consistently shows that mothers are less likely to be hired for jobs, offered promotions, or receive pay raises compared to childless women and men. This phenomenon, known as the "motherhood penalty," reflects deep-rooted biases and stereotypes about women’s commitment and competence in the workforce.

Shockingly, 54,000 women in the UK could be forced out of their jobs every year because of pregnancy discrimination.

Women who take career breaks or reduce their working hours to care for children often face challenges re-entering the workforce at the same level or in positions commensurate with their qualifications and experience. This can perpetuate a cycle of economic dependence and limited opportunities for advancement.

Mental and Emotional Toll

In addition to the tangible economic and career-related penalties, parenthood can also take a significant toll on women’s mental and emotional well-being. Balancing the demands of work and family life can lead to high levels of stress, burnout, and feelings of guilt or inadequacy. The pressure to excel in both realms often leaves women feeling overwhelmed and stretched thin, with little time for self-care or personal fulfilment.

61% of women think motherhood disrupts their career progression.

69% of female employees feel societal pressure to prioritize their family over their careers, making it extremely difficult to maintain a work-life balance. According to recent statistics, 90% of women are not supported at work post-maternity leave, leading to feelings of isolation and self-doubt. Additionally, only 2% of families use shared parental leave, meaning women are often the ones making all the sacrifices for their families.

The challenges women face in balancing work and family are compounded by societal expectations and gender stereotypes. These factors can lead to a lack of confidence and feelings of invisibility in the workplace. In fact, 65% of women feel underrepresented in leadership roles due to a lack of confidence, with more than half attributing this to becoming mothers.

Addressing the parenthood penalty requires systemic changes at both the organizational and societal levels. Employers must implement family-friendly policies such as paid parental leave and flexible work arrangements to support working parents, regardless of gender.

There have been steps to improve this, and could be one of the positives we can take away from COVID. The pandemic proved that many can work effectively remotely, encouraging employees to invest in the technology and tools to give employees a home ‘set-up’; removing the commute. This time saved, which for some can be hours, gives parents more time with their children at breakfast or after school/nursery, removing some of the ‘guilt’. Furthermore, if an employer allows flexible hours, it also delivers the freedom to finish work slightly earlier, enjoy quality time with the kids, and then pick the laptop back up once the children have gone to bed.

Fostering inclusive and supportive work cultures that value diversity and recognize the contributions of all employees is essential for narrowing the gender gap in the workplace.

On a broader scale, dismantling gender stereotypes and promoting gender equality in all spheres of society is crucial for creating a more equitable and inclusive world for women and families. This includes challenging traditional notions of masculinity and femininity, promoting shared caregiving responsibilities, and valuing women’s contributions to both the workforce and the home.

What are Fruition doing?

We have built a community and event series called Females of the Future. Our vision, is to build a community where we can learn from, develop, inspire and support our peers in the recruitment industry. We will bring influencers and professionals to speak and share knowledge and insights! In addition to regular events, members of the Females of the Future community will benefit from:

  • Exclusive access to an online group where members can ask questions and seek advice from other members.
  • ‘Leaders to Lean on’ mentoring programme, where Directors across all areas of recruitment will offer their time, advice, share experiences, and simply support those looking to progress in their career and climb that ladder faster!
  • Quarterly events in Leeds and/or Manchester



Stats source:,61%25%20of%20women%20think%20motherhood%20disrupts%20their%20progress%20opportunities.,to%20a%20lack%20of%20confidence.

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