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Spread the word about maternal profiling

Published on: February 01, 2008

Here’s a pop quiz for you: What is “maternal profiling”?
a. The practice of selling stiff undergarments that promise a return to one’s pre-pregnancy profile.
b. How the executives of The Oprah Winfrey Show determine their prime demographic.
c. Employment discrimination against a woman who has, or will have, children.
d. Routine stops and searches of swerving minivans to check if violence is being perpetrated via flying food between minors.

The answer? C! The New York Times recently reported that “maternal profiling” was one of the new buzzwords of 2007.

The Times
defines it as:
“Employment discrimination against a woman who has, or will have, children. The term has been popularized by members of MomsRising, an advocacy group promoting the rights of mothers in the workplace.”

This new phrase is powerful because it brings forward a shared experience, helping to frame national understanding of the causes of, and solutions to, discrimination against mothers. “Sexual harassment” is a phrase that helped spark major legislative and cultural changes. Widespread use of the phrase “maternal profiling” can similarly help spark major changes.

And major changes are needed. The American Journal of Sociology recently published a study that found that mothers are 79 percent less likely to be hired than non-mothers with equal résumés and job experiences. (Sadly, that isn’t a typo. The study really found that mothers are 79 percent less likely to be hired.) Another study found that, with the exact same résumé and qualifications, mothers are offered an average of $11,000 less than non-mothers for the same upper-level position.

Mothers also face regular discrimination in their paychecks: Women without children make 90 cents to a man’s dollar, but mothers make only 73 cents to a man’s dollar, and single mothers make about 60 cents to a man’s dollar. Working together, we can stamp out maternal profiling and make our nation more truly family friendly.

So what is maternal profiling really? And is it happening to you and your friends? Sadly, the answer to the second question is yes; if you’re a mother in America, then maternal profiling has likely happened to you. Maternal profiling is a significant and shared problem that has a negative impact on vast numbers of women in our nation, particularly since a full 82 percent of American women become mothers by the time they are 44 years old. And the workplace impacts of maternal profiling are jaw dropping, especially given that three-quarters of American mothers are now in the labor force.   

Fortunately, we know how to narrow these wage gaps and how to stop maternal profiling. Countries with family-friendly policies in place — such as paid family leave after the birth of a child and subsidized child care — don’t have the same degree of maternal wage hits that we do here. That’s one of the reasons why MomsRising is fighting for family-friendly policies, as well as for laws that protect mothers and other caregivers from discrimination in the workplace.

Cultural change is another way to help stop maternal profiling. The greater the number of people who become aware of what are often subconscious discriminatory actions, the less often those discriminatory actions will occur. So it’s important that as many people as possible learn about the widespread practice of maternal profiling.

You can help spread the word. Use our little pop quiz as a conversation starter at parties, and as an easy way to share the term with friends. The more people who understand and use the word, the faster we’ll be able to stop the practice. Let’s get rid of maternal profiling!

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is the author of The Motherhood Manifesto and co-founder of MomsRising, a nonprofit group that advocates for mothers’ rights and family-friendly policies. Visit to learn more.

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