Sheryl Sandberg is no stranger to success; as a vice president at Google from 2001 to 2008, and the COO of Facebook since 2008, she’s managed to accumulate a net worth of more than $1 billion. But she’s also a wife and the mother of two children, and with last year’s release of her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, she also became a household name.
Not every mother will agree with the advice and assertions Sandberg set forth in her book and on her website, LeanIn.org. After all, with a $1 billion net worth, she definitely has more resources at her disposal than most working moms.
But with today being Mother’s Day 2014, we spoke with mothers to get their advice on how women can take control of their careers and mitigate the bank account-draining effects of parenthood.
Secret Costs of Being a Mother: Loss of Earnings
It’s no secret that having and raising a child is pricey. The USDA estimated that in 2011, the annual cost of raising a child ranged from $12,290 to $14,320, per child, for a two-child, middle-income married couple. This means that by the time a child reaches adulthood, parents will have spent somewhere in the ballpark of a quarter of a million dollars raising him.
But while these costs are often shared by mothers and fathers alike, one cost in particular has a big and negative impact on mothers alone: loss of wages.
Gender Pay Disparity Is Widest between Men and Women with Children
A look at gender pay disparity worldwide, released in December 2012 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), found that the gap in pay for full-time workers is highest when comparing women and men with children. For childless workers of comparable ages, male wages were just 7 percent higher than their female counterparts; with children added into the equation, however, the gap more than tripled to 21 percent.
How does this gender pay disparity translate into actual dollars and cents for moms? A 2010 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that for low-skill mothers, who often earn less, the difference is less staggering: They experience a lifetime wage loss of $49,000 and a pay reduction of about 6 percent when they have a child. For high-skilled women, however, the numbers are much higher, with lost lifetime wages estimated at $230,000 and as much as a 24 percent reduction in pay each decade after their child’s birth.
Clearly, parenthood costs a lot — and it costs mothers more.
How to “Lean In” and Avoid Losing Out on Wages
Sandberg makes three main suggestions for women to follow to see greater professional success: to jump into a career at full speed before starting a family, let go of unattainable goals (i.e. “having it all”) and speak up when men and women are held to different standards. The following suggestions from working mothers can also help women find a better balance between life and career, and home and work — without sacrificing money in their savings accounts.
1. “Lean In” and Stay Visible in Your Workforce
When it comes to the workplace, there is a definite double standard when it comes to mothers and fathers. While a father’s devotion to his kids and family life is seen as admirable, the same traits in a woman can often be perceived as a lack of commitment or inability to handle more responsibility.
Liz O’Donnell, founder of HelloLadies.com and author of upcoming book Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman, shared her experience with this double standard:
“Several years ago I worked as the head of marketing for a company that was conducting a search for a VP of Sales. I was told by my boss, months after the position had been filled, that the executive team had mentioned me as a possible candidate but decided not to ask me about the job because I was a mother and the job required frequent travel. I have two children. Who did they hire? A man — with three children.”
It’s times like these that it pays to take Sandberg’s advice to lean in. If she could do it differently, O’Donnell said she would have expressed an active interest in the job, rather than thinking, “If they think I’m qualified, they will let me know.” By putting themselves forward, women can make sure they are considered for opportunities and promotions, and stay on-pace with their male or childless colleagues.
2. Work With Your Partner
Sheryl Sandberg cites choosing a partner as the most important choice a woman will ever make in her life. “I don’t know of a single woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully—and I mean fully—supportive of her career. No exceptions,” Sandberg writes.
As Executive Director of The Adoption Consultancy, Nicole Witt talks to many women who are making the transition from a working woman to a working mom. Those first months and years after returning to work after becoming a mother can be especially crucial.
“Enlist your husband (or a key support person) to be available in case of morning setbacks, last minute daycare pickups, etc.,” Witt advises. “They can get away with a little tardiness or absence from work much more than you can right now.”
The NEBR’s findings support this claim; while it uncovered “some evidence of negative consequences of parenthood for men … in nearly all cases the effects are not statistically significant.”
3. Become Your Own Boss
Not every mother is interested in pursuing a corporate career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 66 percent of mothers with children under 18 work, while the other 34 percent do not. In comparison, 90 percent of fathers work.
These numbers demonstrate what a lot of women know: being a working mother is not easy, and it’s not the right choice for everyone.
Karen Lee earned a master’s in architecture, but soon noticed that mothers in her field either had to commit to working full time or leave their careers to stay home with their families; there was little middle ground or flexibility.
So she left architecture to go into financial planning, where she said, “I was told if I gave it five solid years to build my practice, I could write my own schedule after that.” The idea of being her own boss was appealing to Lee, and she built and maintained a business that allowed her to put in office hours only two days a week.
“Find and build a small business for yourself that you can start early in life and nurture over time while you have and raise children,” Lee advises. “Don’t hold out hope that corporate America will support your choice to be a mother and work.”
4. Make the Best Choices — and Accept Them
“If I had to embrace a definition of success, it would be that success is making the best choices we can … and accepting them,” writes Sandberg. When it comes to being a working mother, so often it’s all about compromises. But even with the sacrifices mothers make, they can still find success in knowing they’ve done the best with what they had and by accepting what they’ve been able to achieve.
This is a lesson that marketer and mother of two teenagers, Theresa O’Neal, had to learn as she tried to balance motherhood and her career over the years. “Looking back I might have momentarily felt the frustration of ‘missing out,’ but in the long run I never ‘missed out’ on a thing!” O’Neal said.
Her advice for young women and mothers? “Don’t become frustrated with temporary financial or career setbacks. Look at it as a longer journey where you will reap the benefit of having a more fulfilled life in the long run.”