Feminism & Women in CS: Economics of Parenting

There are a lot of unfair things related to being a woman in the workplace. Women still don’t get promoted to positions of power as often as men, and then even for women doing the exact same work as men, they make less money doing it.

There are a lot of reasons for women earning less than men, and just about all of them boil down to sexism. The trouble is, when we talk about these reasons, things that are sexism get spoon-fed to people as if they are the “choices” women make, instead of sexism.

A good example of this is maternity leave and childcare. We live in a culture where women are expected to shoulder the vast vast majority of housework and childcare, which is sexist. But we frame this like it’s a choice: if women wanted to do as well as their male counterparts in the workplace, they just wouldn’t do that silly thing where they have children; also, men are allowed to have children with no negative impact on their work-life.

The cost of time out

Fast forward 10 to 15 years, and the earnings gap between our male and female MBApples is about 40% for those who were observationally equivalent at graduation. But almost all of that huge difference can be fully explained by the greater number of career interruptions and lower weekly hours experienced by the women (mind you, they still work a large number of hours). One of the reasons for the large gap in earnings between male and female MBAs is that the cost of career interruptions is very great in the corporate and financial sectors. These costs are considerably lower in medicine, and somewhat lower in law and academia.

Taking time out of work for maternity leave in particular is an unavoidable experience for the child-having-inclined among women. People will often note that one fact and leave the explanation at that. (Not to mention a good bit of men will opt to take paternity leave – where’s your handwavey excuse for women making less money now?) But if some event affects nearly half your workforce, shouldn’t that be treated as an expected side-effect of your workforce, and not some special-case “surprise” every time it happens? If close to half your workforce got the flu, you would offer your workers flu shots on site. If half your workforce were blind you would fucking-well put brail on your signs.
But this only covers the few weeks or months when a woman brings a child to term. That is only a tiny fraction of this story. The real story starts after maternity leave. Little Johnny has a runny nose, and both his parents are equally capable of taking him to the doctor. Guess who does.

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