The explanation for this article’s title could be just one: it's biological. However, it is not. There are many other reasons for men to be reassured and women to chase their career dreams. This happens while women are forced to make choices and leave behind their children, family, leisure activities, spiritual pursuits, or their favorite hobbies. In fact, being a Woman and an Executive carries risks, and perhaps the biggest one is being a mother and having a family. Let me explain you why.

For many years, I never paid attention to gender equality issues in the corporate world. After all, if women are (obviously) as good as men, why to bother with these gender struggles that disrupt the free functioning of the labor market in top and mid-level management positions? If women are as good as or even better than men, they will easily catch or even surpass them... So the best is to let the market work, and in more or less years, equality will be achieved. Will it?

I still hold my opinion in some: we are all equal... and so International Women's Day seems absurd to me until there is an International Men's Day. But... something changed in my life. Being a mother made me aware of this very concrete reality and also catched my attention to some scientific data that I had never seen before. After all, being a woman and working in a competitive job market is like driving a car in rush hour traffic and watching the motorcycles pass by. But why?

According to recent scientific research by Khadija Van der Strateen, a professor at the Rotterdam School of Management, male workers with children earn a "premium" in their salary compared to their male colleagues (without children). Women, on the other hand, suffer a salary penalty for being mothers, compared to women without children and men. Similarly, The Economist reveals similar data from a study conducted by the London School of Economics (LSE) and Princeton University in 134 countries. The results are clear: after the birth of the first child, employment decreases exponentially for women (mothers) while remaining unchanged for men (fathers). Even 10 years after motherhood, women do not regain the level of employment of men (the Portuguese case is even worse). This phenomenon is what the authors call the "motherhood penalty." This gap, which leads many women to leave the labor market, is subsequently reflected in a wage and career progression gap. Mainly because women "absent" from the workplace delay career opportunities and promotion. After all, those who are not present are replaced and cannot progress or receive salary premiums (fortunately, there are exceptions).

In Portugal, these data are clear: the higher the position in the organization, the less representation of women there is. Women are promoted less and receive less than men. The World Economic Forum also reveals that it would take 169 years to mitigate this gap between men and women in the labor market worldwide, if we k with current leep evolving with the same labor policies and incentives.

In fact, this problem has been identified for some years now by academic research, which shows a clear gap between 1) mothers, 2) women without children, and 3) men. When women become mothers there is an increase in the perception that they enhance their "warmth" characteristics, but they are also perceived as "less competent" than men and women without children. Despite the increase in their "care for others," due to to the lower level of competence they are being associated with, these women have fewer opportunities for promotion, get hired, or benefiting from training programs. In contrast, when men become fathers, they are perceived as more competent but also more "warm" compared to men without children and women. This increases their career progression opportunities. This perception is not only detrimental to women but also erroneous since it is proven that the higher prevalence of women (with or without children) in Executive Committees increases companies' financial results.

Despite these revealing data, the solution to this problem is not easy, nor is it fair to try to find a “guilty” for this problem. In fact, biologically, women have to stop when they have children and have, more than that, the right to dedicate themselves to their children (as well as fathers). Companies, on the other hand, are not obliged to bear alone the "burden" of losing their employees for months, bearing the costs associated with this absence, and then having to reintegrate them, or even promote them, in years when, necessarily, these women usually devote more time to their families. There are, therefore, several actors and stakeholders who can and should act on this complex and systemic problem. This is specially important for more developed societies, where low birth rates are a social and an economic risk.

The solution for this hurdle lies, first and foremost, in greater accountability for fathers, who should participate more in childcare and household tasks. In fact, science proves that more dedicated fathers are an important factor in reducing this gender gap. Both the public sector and companies can promote incentives in this regard. Companies can promote more equal policies for work and division of childcare leave between men and women, relieving mothers of the majority burden of managing families. The state can also promote greater equality in parenting policies. It can provide more flexibility for women and men to care for their children and more support so that the task of caring for the family can be divided more fairly between men and women.

As long as this continues to be a "women's problem" and not a societal one, we will not find viable solutions. In fact, as with any other complex problem, the solution will only be found with the the cooperation of all involved and with win-win solutions for everyone: fathers, mothers, companies, and society. What is totally unfair is to keep asking only women to carry the "burden" of parenthood alone (see the paradigmatic case of Lilly Allen recently shared by herself).

This is important, because having children should be much more than a "burden," and it is not solely a task for women. Also, because it is always more beautiful to celebrate women and their work qualities when we celebrate them with men, who fortunately have so many qualities as well, I dedicate this text to all men and women who value each other and want to fight these battles together for their children, for Life, and a better society.

Have a great and impactful week!

Filipa Pires de Almeida
Deputy Director at the Center for Responsible Business & Leadership