Motherhood, Race Factor into Lesser Salary for Some Women

June 12, 2014

The salary that Brittany makes as a program manager doesn’t pay enough to support her and her 4-year-old daughter. But according to Brittany’s research, it should. And after hearing comments from her employers, Brittany thinks that she isn’t making the higher wages her family needs because she is a mother and because she is African American.

Brittany works 45-plus hours per week and has been employed at the company for three years. She has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and is working on her master’s degree in management.

“I don’t feel like I get paid what I deserve by nature of what I do, by skills, and by education,” she said.

She uses side jobs — as a fitness coach and an image consultant — to make ends meet. But side jobs are particularly challenging for her as a single parent who is also trying to manage a home. Brittany said her company has not responded favorably to her requests for a raise.

“I always take my annual review as an opportunity to pitch myself or argue for myself,” Brittany said. “I say, ‘Here’s what I deserve based on research, based on what the average people in the area are making, what we’re doing, education level, and what I want to be doing next year. My current salary is always lower than average. They haven’t been able to meet that.”

Women who work full time, year-round typically are paid 77 cents for every dollar men are paid. For mothers and for women of color, that number is even worse. Working mothers typically are paid 69 cents for every dollar fathers are paid, and African American women are paid 64 cents for every dollar white men are paid. It takes moms and African American women more than six months to catch up to fathers’ and men’s wages from the previous year (until June 12 for mothers and July 20 for African American women). After researching on, Brittany said she makes almost $20,000 less than the median salary of similar positions in her area.

Brittany’s senior leadership team, who are all men, have given her plenty of reasons to believe that her status as a mother factors into their unwillingness to pay her in line with community averages and with what she believes others in her office make. She says her bosses have said to her, “Oh you’ve been taking a lot of time off” or “Oh, didn’t you just have a doctor’s appointment?”

“Those comments are really troubling for me,” she said. “Those are things that you can’t put off.”

In addition, the fact that she is a mother actually came up in her last annual review when she was arguing for a raise. Brittany said her boss told her, “Well you know we’ve been really understanding and flexible with your schedule.”

“You want to say things back, but at the same time you’re asking them for what you need,” Brittany said.

As Brittany’s situation shows, the pay gap cannot be closed by negotiation alone. We need Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Brittany is also the only African American person in the office. She said that she has experienced being talked down to and been given lesser tasks, both of which she feels are due to racial discrimination.

“These are things that are so hard to prove, so it’s hard to fix the situation,” she said. “But if given no other rationale, it’s hard not to lean toward that.”

At a previous job, Brittany said she was turned down for a promotion and an increase in pay because she was pregnant. She opted not to pursue legal action. When she started working at her current job, she said she didn’t mention for a month that she had a kid because she didn’t want that information to hinder how her new colleagues treated her.

“Definitely as a mother there is always an eyebrow raised to your situation,” she said. “You want to take off for a field trip or because your kid got sick at school — I see it as employers keeping a mental checklist. It’s something as a mother that I want to be mindful of. You never want to put your family second, but you’re between a rock and a hard place.”

Brittany is just one of many mothers who have experienced the pay gap. Read Melissa’s story and Eileen’s story.



race ethnicity_fig.7 updated

How Does Race Affect the Gender Wage Gap?

You may have noticed that the gender pay gap varies — in some cases dramatically — from state to state. But do you know why?

"Would you like a 7% raise?" with cash on a serving tray.

Fight for Fair Pay

Changing the pay gap begins with you.

Cheryl Hughes headshot

7 Women Shortchanged: Personal Stories of the Gender Pay Gap

I left the employer who underpaid me long ago, but the damage done by the thousands of dollars I lost to the gender pay gap sticks with me.

1 Comment

  1. […] still live in a world where women are paid less, unfairly criticized, and openly harassed. No wonder they feel they have to apologize for every […]

Join the Conversation

You must be logged in to post a comment.