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Is there a motherhood penalty for promotion at work?

The hidden costs of flexibility

Irina Fernandez-Lozano, Juan-Ignacio Martínez-Pastor and Teresa Jurado-Guerrero, UNED; M. José González, UPF

Women with children do not face a direct penalty with regard to promotion to positions of responsibility. However, the people who are penalised with regard to promotion are those workers – men and women alike – who opt for more a more flexible working day through a reduction in working hours or through teleworking. The penalty, therefore, is an indirect one. If mothers are promoted to a lesser extent it is because they are more likely to opt for flexibility in working hours, job functions and job and employment conditions.
Key points
  • 1
       Contrary to what one might think, under the same employment conditions, women workers with children have higher scores for promotion at work than men without children. The explanation lies in the women being perceived as more competent at their work.
  • 2
       Those candidates (men or women) who telework two days per week receive lower scores for being promoted at work than their counterparts who work every day from the office.
  • 3
       People working reduced hours are worse positioned for promotion at work than those who work the 40 or more -hours per week.
  • 4
       The research analyses upward promotion to intermediate positions with supervision responsibility, not to senior management posts, in medium- and large-sized Spanish companies.
  • 5
       An experimental methodology is used that avoids social desirability biases.
Labour flexibility affects promotion at work
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Given the same aptitudes, when evaluating people for promotion, there is a greater penalty attached to having a reduced working day than to being a woman or to having children. In other words, the fact of being a women or having children did not penalise or reduce the probabilities of promotion within the company per se. However, an indirect penalty does exist: one of the reasons that mothers are promoted less is because they are the people who most opt for flexible working hours and working conditions.

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