Discrimination against mothers is more common than we’d like to admit, yet more and more women are promoting themselves as parents in their public profiles. Women working as everything from magazine editors to CEOs and small business owners include their parental status in website bios, tell the Twittersphere they’re a ‘mum of two boys’ or plaster photos of their kids all over their Instagram feed, despite ample evidence suggesting women without kids are often looked upon more favourably in the workplace. So should you tell the online world you have little people or keep mum?
Spilling the beans
After a client failed to renew a contract upon learning director of public relations firm Square One PR, Katie Wilke, was pregnant she and business partner Sarah O’Brien decided not to share subsequent pregnancies with their business network and to keep their children hidden from the company’s social media accounts for fear of falling victim to the ‘motherhood penalty’.
According to Diversity Council Australia, this phenomenon is a major factor in Australia’s gender pay gap, which is currently 16.2 per cent. Half of all women experience discrimination at work during pregnancy and research indicates that each child lowers women’s wages, with estimates varying from four per cent for the first child to nine per cent for two or more children. The opposite is true for men, with a Macquarie University study finding men earn up to $5000 a year for each child.
Earlier this year, however, Wilke and O’Brien performed a dramatic about-face and now promote themselves as "smart, fun and fit working mums" on Instagram and chat happily with clients about their children.
Why the change of strategy? "We realised that while we felt it was necessary to prove to ourselves that we could do it, it was incredibly naive and offensive to hide [our pregnancies]," says Wilke. "We've decided we don't want to work with people like that anyway, so we are less afraid to talk about our kids and pregnancies.
"We work with a lot of amazing mums, for amazing mums, for people with amazing mums, for men with amazing mum-wives and suddenly realised it wasn't anything to shy away from but rather be proud of in our industry. That being said, I don't publicise the kids and I don't promote being a mum often – it just sits on my social as part of what makes me me."
A balancing act
Likewise, Rhonda Brighton Hall, a human resources expert with 25 years’ experience in senior roles for BHP, Sara Lee and the Commonwealth Bank and chair of FlexCareers, shares that she is a "mum of three and wife of one" on her Twitter account.
She says promoting herself as a "whole person" is part of a growing trend among women in senior corporate positions keen to normalise the idea of successful working mothers. "Those of us who are in senior roles have decided we’ve had enough," says Brighton-Hall. "What we are trying to do by being honest about the full dimensions of our lives is to say that we can still be very successful with or without children."
However, Brighton-Hall acknowledges that discrimination is still a real concern for mothers, especially during the recruitment process. "If you're on your way up, it is a tricky one," she says. "I get asked about this all the time: ‘I want to work flexibly but I don't want to tell them I have kids or I'm pregnant because there’s no guarantee that I’ll get the job’.
"That's very tough because the reality is that I’ve seen too many examples where it’s true to give people bad advice. So you need to make sure your children and your needs aren’t the main conversation while you’re trying to get the job, but once you’re in a job it’s okay to be who you are."