The term “maternal wall” was coined in a 2003 article published in the New York Times Magazine. This fascinating piece addressed the “Opt-Out Revolution” many professional mothers face as they begin motherhood.
Please note, however, that this post supports both options- to stay at home with children or push through and maintain a career. The purpose of this article is to enlighten women and men about the realistic perceptions placed on professional mothers as they face the maternal wall.
Joan Williams and daughter Rachel Dempsey present the maternal wall phenomenon in a detailed and interesting light. In their book What Works for Women at Work, Williams and Dempsey (2014) explained that when interviewing hundreds of women, they discovered that many would have loved to have the option to be there for their young children and maintain a career.
As the interviews progressed, however, Williams and Dempsey (2014) also discovered that the biggest problem was with the implicit standards North Americans place on workplace structure and motherhood roles. According to these standards, workers need to be available 24/7, and mothers need to be readily available to their children. For professional mothers, how is this formula supposed to work?
At the end of the day, these women feel overwhelmed, stretched to the limit, and they wonder if they are producing quality work in the office and at home (Williams & Dempsey, 2014).
Disheartening as this may be, we also need to address the role gender bias plays in this reality. According to sociologist and Stanford professor Shelley Correll, mothers are given the short end of the promotional stick when it comes to career advancement and opportunities (Williams & Dempsey, 2014).
Correll and her team conducted a study where women with identical qualifications submitted their resumes. The only difference between the women was that some were mothers and others were not. The study’s outcomes were alarming. Non-mothers received 2.1 times as many callbacks than mothers, and non-mothers were hired 1.8 times more frequently than mothers (Williams & Dempsey, 2014). This puts a lot of pressure on mothers.
Understandably, this scenario presents many frustrations. However, the following advice may help ward off unwanted bias due to motherhood.
If you decide to go back to work, make sure your family status is not the center of who you are professionally. If a superior reminds you that you have three children and that it must be difficult for you to juggle all of this, kindly say yes, and remind him that your children are not here at the moment. Then, redirect the conversation toward what you can do with your skills and abilities to help move the project forward. In other words, bring the conversation back to your abilities, competence, and willingness to be part of the team.
As women, we wear many hats: professional, wife, mother, daughter, and friend. Know whom you want to be at all times and be confident in the choice you make.