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‘There is a measured motherhood penalty’: Lauren Smith Brody on working women

Lauren Smith Brody, ‘The Fifth Trimester’ author, joins Yahoo Finance’s Sibile Marcellus and Jen Rogers to discuss all things working mom: from the impact of the coronavirus on working women to the ‘Marshall Plan for Moms.’

Video Transcript

JEN ROGERS: Welcome back to A Time for Change. So most babies are born in the third trimester. And even those people that love being pregnant, I don't think they know that there's actually a fifth trimester. Sibile, that's when working moms are born. That's when women typically return to the workplace after having a baby and the push and the pull between family and work really begins.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: That's right, Jen, but even today, there are some men who don't want women to return to the workplace. Just last week, a state representative of Idaho, Charlie Shepherd, voted against a bill to extend early childhood education. Here's the rationale that he used for not wanting to make it easier for women to, quote, "come out of the home."

CHARLIE SHEPHERD: I don't think anybody does a better job than mothers in the home. And any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let somebody else raise their child, I just don't think that's a good direction for us to be going.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Now he's since apologized and said that he recognizes that his remarks might have sounded offensive and rac-- and sexist. Now joining us is Lauren Smith Brody. She is the author of "The Fifth Trimester." Lauren, you just listened to what the state representative said. What's your reaction to his view of working mothers?

LAUREN SMITH BRODY: I think let us-- hi, good to be with you guys. Let us be reassured by the bipartisan overwhelming just pushback against his opinions. And I'm going to try really hard here to reset my face and to take my emotions out of it and not be biased against him and to ignore his bias against me, and just ask one really simple question of him, which is, does he support an economic recovery? Because when you look at who that $6 million would benefit, it would help make up education gaps and care gaps that our children have felt.

And, you know, for all of this work of supporting new mothers, being about supporting, you know, their being able to be with their children and be good parents to them, it's also about raising a generation that is going to support our economy in an ongoing way, right? And support us in our old ages. So, I'm sure he wants them to be educated and to have a good start in life, which we know from research is really benefited by early childhood education.

And then, secondly, 54% of women are either solo or primary breadwinners for their families. So if they're home in the kitchen, apparently held hostage, they're not getting a whole lot done to contribute to the economy either. And there's a whole, you know, parcel of research that shows the efficacy of having women in the workplace, women in leadership roles. More women in leadership roles would actually increase our United States GDP. There's just a huge economic case to be made for keeping women in leadership. And what we've seen over this time, of course, is so many women being pushed out.

And so, we have to do everything we can to get them out of that kitchen that he wants them in and back into the workforce, knowing that their kids are well cared for at the same time.

JEN ROGERS: We do know we're leaving a lot on the table when we have women out of the workforce. That said, look, women also do provide a service, and he recognizes that at least for working-- for working moms at home. I mean, it's a job there as well. And that's sort of unpaid and largely unseen. That, though, is part of this idea of the Marshall Plan for moms. What is that? Why should we-- you know, we say, like, oh, we want to get all-- you know, get everyone back and working out of the home. But working in the home, why do we value that as well? And how do we need to value that in a financial way?

LAUREN SMITH BRODY: Well, it's funny. You were talking about silver linings, and I think that that is an absolutely enormous silver lining of this time, is that we all now universally see the inherent value of caring for our kids and making sure that they have good health and access to education. And all of that unpaid labor has now been seen as more valuable than ever.

So the Marshall Plan for moms is the brainchild of the founder of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani, who proposed, among many, many, many other things, that there be payments given to moms to essentially make up for the income that they have lost by caring for their children in this time. Women who have had to take on less work, women who have been pushed out of the workforce, because when you give a mom money, I guarantee you she's going to use it to support her kids and make the world a better place.

This resolution was introduced formally last week-- this is very exciting-- by Representative Grace Meng and by senators Tammy Duckworth and Amy Klobuchar. It is, you know-- it is not perfectly represented in the rescue plan that we have seen presented, which, you know, as you said, does have that-- the child tax credit, which is just an incredible normalizer of the support of children and of their mothers, who are the ones who are going to be using the money to care for them. But this is all in addition and beyond that.

And so, she has asked, with a cohort of 49 other prominent working mothers, to have a caregiving czar to essentially have a bailout for the child care industry that never happened. And this is the child care industry that holds up so many of our families, but also is largely employing women. We know particularly women of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, largely because they work in sectors that were-- either had more layoffs or required them to be essential workers who were more at risk.

So when you help the child care sector, you're helping the women and families who rely on the child care, but you're also helping the child care providers as well. So that's one piece of it. And then the other piece of it is just direct payments to moms because when you give moms money, they use it really well.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Lauren, despite the rise in working from home, we're seeing a baby bust. Birth rates are falling. Why are women not having children amid the pandemic? And is it possibly a realization that women can't have it all, and is there a motherhood penalty?

LAUREN SMITH BRODY: So, yes, there absolutely is a measured motherhood penalty. The most conservative estimate comes out of Harvard, and it's that women's income drops 4% per child. Those numbers about the declining birth rate actually predate the pandemic, and I think that's really important to know. And it also helps us understand and contextualize this lack of support for parents. This isn't new. Any mother who has tried to have a job that pays her and also do unpaid work of caring for her family knows that our preexisting condition is the lack of support for parents in this country.

And I think in some cases, that has prompted people to have fewer children. There's also-- those numbers are a little hard to decipher, too, because also, some of that is just due to the fact that a lot of families are choosing to have their children later, because that is becoming more possible, and are investing in their careers earlier, because they know that they need that financial ground to stand on in order to raise and support a family, which has gotten harder and harder and more expensive over time.

JEN ROGERS: So, as we look out over the time horizon into the next year of hopefully the post-pandemic-- and we were talking about this with Professor Stone as well-- look, we've lost millions of women from the labor force. We're at a 30-year low there. But there's a lot of people that are on the fence right now about what to do. And according to a new Yahoo YouGov poll over, 50% of women would leave if money were no object. So how do companies right now keep those women? What do they do to keep them in the labor force?

LAUREN SMITH BRODY: First and foremost, they need to help these women understand that there has been a long-term investment in their career, that this is not just about the work that they're doing right now today, that they may not be able to do all of in this moment, but it's an investment in their future ability to move into leadership roles. As I said earlier, more women in leadership makes more profitable companies. So it's helping them understand their value.

There are ways also that as companies look at the ways that flexibility has worked over this time, they need to make it universally available for employees. Not just for moms, not even just for parents, it's for anybody with a caregiving need, so somebody who has an elder care responsibility, someone with an older child with a special need, and frankly, also, for taking care of yourself at a time when mental health is particularly important to protect.

So, by destigmatizing motherhood by making these flexibility options available for all, I think it will really engage people to stay. There also needs to be, as we've seen sort of this radical acceptance of having our children be visible in our work, both in the ways that they are, like, on the screen behind us sometimes and also in the ways that they inspire us to keep working and do the work that we do.

And then I also advise the women I work with to make-- to sort of do the other side of the coin of that, which is to make their work really visible to their kids. We've had, many of us, no option but to make it visible to our kids in this time. But for our kids to see us work hard, succeed, struggle, these are all wonderful life lessons that they're actually getting from us in this time that will serve them really, really well for the long haul.

In terms of what businesses can do, certainly adding, you know, in addition to what we're seeing happening on a federal level by offsetting child care costs, a child care stipend to be used however that family needs it is really the way to go. Just cold hard cash-- that makes an enormous difference.

I also am encouraging, when I do best practices with businesses and organizations, I'm encouraging them to count measures of success in different ways than they're used to. It's no longer just dollars of business brought in, face time, and hours worked. It's, what employee resource group are you part of? Who did you mentor during this time? How did you help us as a team all be able to adapt?

And those are softer skills, and they are sometimes harder things to measure. But I would bet that every working parent watching knows of one way that they've contributed something that contributed to collegiality and sustainability for their employers. And we need employers to recognize that, reward it, and actually factor it into people's next annual review.

JEN ROGERS: Wow, I love this. Lauren Smith Brody is the author of "The Fifth Trimester." So great to get your thoughts on this and hope we'll get to continue this conversation.