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More Than Half of Working Moms Say They’re Uncomfortable Leaving Work Early to Pick Up Their Children

Practices that highlight the status of motherhood risk damaging a woman’s workplace reputation

By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

A 2010 study by Harvard University examined normative discrimination against mothers in the workplace.

In a behavioral experiment with 260 undergraduate students, female study participants rated successful mothers as significantly less likeable and less committed compared to otherwise identical fathers. Highly successful fathers were thus seen as having more positive interpersonal skills than mothers.

Psychologist Dr. Eden B. King of Rice University writes of the study’s findings: “Simply being labeled as a ‘mom’ seems to convey that a person is lacking in ability.”

Any action or practice that draws attention to a woman’s status as mother is one that could damage her reputation in the workplace, and working mothers are quite aware of this penalty.

Mothers spend nearly twice as much time as fathers do on child care duties. This is true even if both the mother and father do paid work full-time. All parents are familiar with the need to leave work unexpectedly, though in the United States in 2019, the parent who leaves early is most likely the mother.

We asked 2,000 working mothers how comfortable they would be leaving work unexpectedly to pick up their child.

More than 50 percent said they would be somewhat or very uncomfortable leaving work early to do so. The largest percentage share—30 percent—say they would be very uncomfortable.

survey results working moms uncomfortable leaving work early for childcare

In April 2019, InHerSight also examined the wants and needs of 7,500 working moms to understand what mothers in the workplace want most from their employers.

Paid time off, flexible work hours, unbiased and respectful coworkers, equal opportunities, and the ability to telecommute top our list.

Employers who make these elements of employment a priority can help ensure that working mothers are no longer penalized for child care duties that might unexpectedly pull them away from the workday. A further solution to this penalty is for fathers to share in child care duties, even if it pulls them away from the workday.


Survey of 2,272 working mothers in April 2019.

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By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

Content Strategist, InHerSight

Emily is on staff at InHerSight where she writes about data and women's rights. 

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