States Are Working to Stop the Discounting of Moms

Today is Mom’s Equal Pay Day—the day we recognize how much better off we would all be if our workplaces had been developed by and structured around the lives of women. As it currently stands, mothers—across all races, ethnicities and occupations—have to work five months into 2018 to make what fathers made in 2017 alone. Mothers working full time, year round outside the home are paid just 71 cents for every dollar paid to fathers. And when we look specifically at Black mothers, we discover they are paid just 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. Native mothers are paid just 49 cents, and Latina mothers just 46 cents.
This deep and disturbing “discounting” of mothers stems from the fact that so many in our society and workplaces still hold the belief, subconsciously or consciously, that being a mother is inherently incompatible with working outside the home. Research shows that mothers are recommended for significantly lower starting salaries, perceived as less competent, and less likely to be recommended for hire than non-mothers, while the effects for fathers are just the opposite.
These biases are fed by the fact that our workplaces were intentionally structured around the lives of white men with wives at home caring for their children—lives that don’t reflect today’s workforce and for many mothers’ of color, never reflected reality. When we call that out, it is not surprising that some see taking parental leave, or reasonable break time to express milk, or light duty for a short period during a pregnancy as “special” treatment that is a burden to the employer. But it also reveals that it isn’t motherhood that is incompatible with work, but anti-caregiver biases and structures in our workplaces that stand in the way of mothers’ (and everyone’s) work.
Recognizing that we are hurting our workforce, our families, and our communities by forcing mothers to continue to overcome these biased beliefs and structures by themselves, a growing number of states and cities are working with haste to reshape the workplace to support families:

1. Equal Pay

A significant part of closing the wage gap for mothers is ensuring that employers are not paying mothers discriminatorily low wages compared to their male counterparts. This year alone, Washington, New Jersey, Vermont, and Connecticut signed equal pay legislation into law, and Hawaii and Illinois have passed bills that await their governor’s signature. These bills have closed loopholes in current equal pay laws, increased remedies for victims of pay discrimination, and provided protections against retaliation for employees who discuss their pay with each other. Many of these bills also prohibit employers from relying on job applicant’s prior salary in the hiring process because no one should be forced to carry pay discrimination with them from job to job.

 2. Reasonable Workplace Accommodations for Pregnant Workers

Many mothers begin to experience discrimination starting with pregnancy. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to ensure that pregnant workers who are limited in their ability to perform particular job activities during their pregnancy are entitled to accommodations in the workplace. Many people can work through their pregnancies without any changes in their jobs, but too many of those who do need some sort of modest accommodation are denied that accommodation and/or pushed out of work—even when their employer gives accommodations to others at work who are similarly limited in their ability to work. This can result in pregnant workers losing income at the very moment their financial obligations are increasing. South Carolina most recently enacted such a law on May 17 and they did so with strong bipartisan support, underlining the fact that this is commonsense, common good policy. Pregnant workers should never be forced to choose between a healthy pregnancy and their jobs.

3. Paid Family Leave and Paid Sick Days

Only 13 percent of private industry workers report access to any paid family leave which means too many women, who continue to shoulder the majority of caregiving responsibilities, are forced into part time work or to leave work entirely, hurting their pocket books. Fortunately, states and cities across the country are working to expand the availability of paid family and medical leave and paid sick days to help ensure that parents, especially those in the low-wage workforce who are least likely to have access to sick or family leave, can care for themselves and their families and be more productive at work. In the last two years, Washington state and the District of Columbia passed paid family and medical leave and California expanded its program to help more low-income workers and provide better benefits. Washington’s program, for example, guarantees eligible workers up to 16 weeks of combined paid family and medical leave in a year. Five states—Arizona, Washington, Rhode Island, Maryland, and New Jersey—and ten cities have passed legislation providing working people with paid sick days. These policies help ensure that working people can take their own sick time, but also take time to care for a sick family member.

 4. Predictable Work Schedules

Variable work schedules assigned with short notice can wreak havoc on parents’ child care arrangements, and the fluctuating earnings that accompany fluctuating hours can make paying for child care or qualifying for child care or food assistance problematic. These schedules are particularly common in low-wage jobs where women make up two-thirds of the workforce. But it doesn’t have to be this way and cities and states are passing laws to provide for greater advance notice of schedules, disincentivize last minute schedule changes, and ensure that working people aren’t retaliated against for requesting a certain schedule. In the last two years, Oregon, New Hampshire, New York City, Seattle, and Emeryville, California have enacted legislation to help working people get more predictable and stable work schedules and more of a say in their schedule.
If only our workplaces had originally been structured based on the reality that a percentage of the workforce will be pregnant and/or care for family members at some point in their work life. But states are showing us it isn’t too late!