A new study shows that women plan to hold off having children to focus on their careers. Are motherhood and ambition truly incompatible?

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Would women be able to progress better in their careers if they held off having children? A new study seems to suggest so. In fact, 83 percent of women over 25 who plan to have children reported delaying their plans for motherhood to focus on their careers.

The best time to have children is a debate that I’ve heard ad nauseam at women’s career events. Interestingly, I’ve never heard this question asked by a man … or to one. But at panels focused on women’s career growth, I often hear early- to mid-career women ask more seasoned leaders for advice on this. To date, I’ve never heard a convincing answer either way. That’s because it’s such a deeply personal decision. Plus, one woman’s career isn’t like another’s — so much depends on the industry you’re working in, your company culture around work-life balance, and especially, your manager.

But I have heard, more than I’d like to admit, that having a child later is better for your career growth as a woman.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of data points to back up that motherhood isn’t the best accelerator for a woman’s career. Working moms make less money than working dads, are considered less committed to their careers and are likely to be taken off the leadership trajectory once they have children.

Couple this with the veritable tug-of-war between the years that most women move into their first management role (typically sometime in their 30s in corporate America) and the prime age to have children – and the decision is fraught with tension. While 79 percent of men in the study also reported wanting to delay children to focus on their careers, they don’t have to contend with a biological clock.

In recent years, the when-to-have-children conundrum reached new heights when we discovered that some Silicon Valley companies now foot the bill when their female employees have their eggs frozen. Critics of this perk said it might pressure some female employees into delaying having children, while perpetuating the message that having children doesn’t complement climbing the career ladder.

Personally, I see these debates as a golden opportunity for companies to take the lead in advocating for their employees. By having access to generous paid parental leave, women don’t have to stress out over when they can financially afford to take a few months off to care for a newborn. I’m always keen on parental leave, not just maternity, because it also encourages men to shoulder the caregiving responsibility. And when companies don’t penalize employees for working flexibly, there’s evidence that more women have the opportunity to balance family priorities with work.

The message about the incompatibility of work and family runs deep in our society today. It’s time we made it possible for women to feel empowered in making this choice based on their health and preferences.

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