“Rita Kakati Shah was thinking about returning to work after three and a half years of raising her two children. Armed with 15 years of experience in the financial sector and the pharmaceutical industry (including a 10-year stint at Goldman Sachs), she decided to start the process by attending a networking event. When it came to putting down her place of employment in her name tag, she wrote SAHM, which stood for “stay-at-home mom.”
She started talking to another attendee, and when that attendee discovered what SAHM stood for, she turned around and walked away. “I stood there thinking, Did that just happen?” Shah decided to tap the attendee on the shoulder and asked her, “Can I just ask why you reacted that way?” The attendee admitted that because Shah had been a stay-at-home mom rather than engaging in paid employment, she thought that Shah “couldn’t have had anything to contribute to the conversation.”
Shah was experiencing the effects of a “mommy tax”–the idea that working mothers are penalized for having children, while fathers are often rewarded. According to a 2017 report from The National Women’s Law Center, working mothers in the U.S. earn 71¢ to the dollar in comparison to working fathers. As Lydia Dishman previously reportedfor Fast Company, the motherhood bias is based on the perception that women who have children will be less ambitious and focused at work, while men will be more responsible and committed to their jobs because they will be motivated to take care of their family.
For Shah, that experience was just one of the many motherhood biases that she faced in her journey to returning to full-time employment. She faced so much hostility that she decided to start Uma–a company that helps mothers transition back to the workforce. She recently shared her experience with Fast Company. Her account has been edited for space and clarity.”
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