When it comes to workplace advancement, what works for men doesn’t work for women.

Share story

Common sense tells us that the more skilled a worker is, the more money he or she will make. That’s been corporate America’s rationale for paying CEOs seven-figure salaries. But new research finds that this statement doesn’t apply to moms — in fact, high-earning women with children experience a 10 percent gender wage gap for every child they have. Low- and middle-income women stand to lose a smaller amount, between 4 percent to 7 percent of their earnings, per child.

The data suggest that high-wage earners don’t only lose money for the time they take off to birth new children — that’s often unpaid in America anyway — but the pay and opportunity gap also widens over time. The cost of the big projects, salary raises and other opportunities high-earning women miss out on when they take time off to raise kids, adds up in a big way.

By the way, fathers experience the opposite: They get a 6 percent bonus for every child they have.

The study seems to confirm what I’ve found to be true in all the time I’ve covered workplace issues — what works for men to succeed in the workplace doesn’t apply to women’s success.

We advise children to get college educated. However, although women earn almost 60 percent of all undergraduate and master’s degrees, women CEOs consist of less than 5 percent of the S&P 500. The more educated or skilled a woman is, the higher the wage gap she experiences, with or without kids. Female academic physicians working at 24 public medical schools in the U.S. earn an average of $20,000 less per year, when controlling for all factors. We tell women to negotiate their salaries, like men do. But even when women ask for a salary raise, they’re 25 percent less likely to get it than men. And now, as this latest research suggests, when it comes to paying employees, we reward dads and perceive them to be more trustworthy, but anticipate that women with kids will be less committed to their jobs.

Creating equity between the genders lies in the hands of employers, according to Paula England, a professor of sociology at New York University, and the lead author of the study. Everyone benefits when companies create a culture that doesn’t punish mothers for taking time to raise kids, plus offering leave to parents of both genders, she said. “That might even the playing field between mothers and non-mothers somewhat, and possibly even between men and women,” she told qz.com.

Our preconceived notions about unproductive mothers runs contrary to the research. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis analyzed the productivity of over 10,000 economists to find that mothers are more productive than women without children over a 30-year career. So if women are told to aim for a high-flying career through education and self-advocacy, just like a man, then why do we penalize only her for having a child?

Ruchika Tulshyan is a journalist, speaker and author. Connect with her on Twitter at @rtulshyan or her website rtulshyan.com.