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Gender Pay Gap Part 3: does motherhood matter?

The New York Times writes that the Gender Pay Gap is mostly established after women have children. It adds another ‘how come’ to the list of explanations for the gender pay gap, next to deeply rooted beliefs about role models and hidden sexism. In the process of writing our concluding blog we came across the article in the New York Times that made us realize we gave little attention to the one aspect that is strongly believed to influence the Gender Pay Gap: Motherhood.

Comments we received from our colleagues from the Kennedy Executive Search & Consulting network: Our colleague Paul Battye from the UK: “How will you tackle the elephant in the room of pay gaps being established after women have children? This is the main area where most companies fall down. If a woman takes a year off for a child she comes back with a year’s less experience and therefore a pay gap is often established which is difficult to catch up. Add a second, third or fourth child into the equation and this can become massively significant. George Kobelraush from Ikelosz in Hungary: “The pay gap in a given segment of the population is due to the fact that there is an exceptionally long possibility of maternity leave in Hungary. Women may be legally absent from work for 3 years. While they are staying at home raising children their male counterparts gain more work experience. Their career progresses, usually resulting in higher salaries.” In Italy they have a different explanation. Laura Galli from VIR HR: “The main cause is the cultural factor. In Italy it is very appreciated if a person can work till late at night. Here, women usually take care of children. And it’s a commonly thought that women cannot stay till night at her office and for this reason they could be paid less.  We lack affordable child care to support families, therefore women often manage family duties.” However, this does not explain the gender pay gap in The Netherlands. Our maternity leave is 16 weeks maximum, affordable child care is available to everybody, dads take an equal role in raising their kids and in our highly flexible labour market it is possible to pursue a career working four days a week. Yet, this last, highly valued achievement, comes with a certain price: many of our Dutch respondents mentioned that they prioritize flexibility over salary, because they value a good family/work balance more than a higher prime salary.

When digging for more ‘circumstantial’ information, we bumped into this article published earlier this year in the Telegraph. It is a must-read for all of us who tend to be slightly skeptical and always look for better solutions and best practices in other cultures and countries, overlooking the blessings of their own system. A few quotes:

  • “Dutch society has fought for and achieved an enviable work-life balance. As the part-time champions of Europe, the Dutch work on average 29 hours a week, dedicate at least one day a week to spending time with their children, and pencil in time for themselves, too.”
  • “Dutch fathers are not afraid of looking like sissies –they take and equal role in child rearing and household chores. They look after their kids on their days off and help put the little ones to bed. You’re just as likely to see a dad pushing a pram or wearing a baby-carrier as a mum.”

After reading this article one could understand the Dutch are willing to pay a price for raising kids with the highest wellbeing in rich countries. Our highly valued four-day working week may block the way to a top executive position, but there is a bigger gain: it enables us to raise (very) happy kids. Perhaps this explains why Dutch woman on the one hand recognize the issue of the Gender Pay Gap but on the other hand don’t seem to be much bothered by it.


However: not reaching a Top Executive position is not the same as accepting a gender pay difference. It would be interesting to investigate if the gender pay gap continues if more and more young fathers opt for a four-day working week. If so, it would prove that parenthood has nothing to do with it and frankly speaking, we would not be surprised if that would be the case.

If parenthood proves not to be the essential cause, we are left with deeply rooted beliefs in role models and hidden sexism as the main causes for the gender pay gap. These two aspects require much more attention than installing regulation or solve a few practical societal issues.

In our next (and final!) blog we take a closer look at the role Executive Search companies can play, and give you some practical tips and take-aways along the way.

Stay tuned! We will be back in four weeks.


Wilma Rossieau is involved in search for positions in healthcare consulting, business development, market access – and quite a few med tech start-ups.






Eline Joseph recently joined Lens, after finishing my Master’s degree in Culture, Organisation and Management at the VU University here in Amsterdam. 



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