Planning for a family as a professional woman

Deciding whether or not to have children – and if so, when to do it – is a dilemma many working women face.

If you’re unsure how to satisfy your family goals and your career goals, you’re not alone in the struggle. In saying that, every woman’s journey is entirely unique and there’s no proven formula for family planning.

Here are some things to consider.

Understand the motherhood-career trade off

It’s hard to do both

While a family isn’t a part of everyone’s plans (evidenced by motherhood rates dropping in the US) working moms still make up nearly a third of the female workforce. Now more than ever women are juggling both. But life is no walk in the park for working moms, as we know.

McKinsey research shows that they have been some of the most heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic (think: increased burden of housework and childcare, missing out on professional opportunities, burnout). As a result, one in four are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce altogether.

It’s a key cause of the gender wage gap

Having children, in general, can be a major drawback to career success and earning potential for women. The ‘motherhood penalty’ is a proven phenomenon, whereby women earn less once they become mothers (making 70 cents for every dollar paid to fathers). It’s a key contributor to the global gender wage gap.

It further perpetuates unfair bias

Studies show that motherhood also affects recruitment decisions, with companies considering working mothers ‘less competent’ than childless women, and being less interested in hiring, training or promoting moms. That’s on top of the bias women already face in many industries, tech included.

It’s difficult to ‘time it right’

Research has shown that having a baby between the ages of 25 and 35 may be most detrimental to your career. Women who have children earlier or later in life experience less significant wage gap implications. Yet the global average age of a first time mother is right within that detrimental window, at 31 years old.

In recent decades women have been putting it off, prioritizing career growth and building finances in their 20s and 30s. But this delay can result in women being blindsided by the rapid approach of the end of their fertility windows. 42% of working women in corporate America are childless – but not necessarily by active choice. Rather, one senior manager describes it as a “creeping nonchoice”.

It can spark a change of heart

Some women may be fearful of having children because it could change their attitudes towards work, as one woman recently summed up in a LinkedIn post: “I feel like a baby is going to be an irresistible, beautiful distraction”.

Some professional women note an emotional change that makes them desire staying at home with children rather than returning to work, while others find factors like sexism and the cost of childcare too frustrating to contend with.

Work out what you want

Having a family and pursuing your career may sound like tough work (and it is!) – but women find ways to do it. When it comes to planning your family (and for that matter, your career), there’s no right or wrong. This journey is yours alone.

Only you know what matters to you. So explore what it might look like for you. Consider asking some questions like:

  • Could your health/mental health be impacted by having children (or not having them)?
  • Do you have people around you who could support you to keep working?
  • Do you have bucket list items you want to tick off before starting a family? (i.e. Travel, starting a business, reaching a certain point in your career, buying a house.)
  • Could you financially support children?
  • Do you want to experience pregnancy, adopt, or foster children?
  • What would you regret more: not becoming a mother, or not reaching your career goals?

It can be impossible to visualize a life you can’t quite fathom or understand, which is why it helps to research, talk to other women, and look for positive stories of working mothers.

Explore the finer details

If you do decide to birth, adopt or foster children, there will be some practical planning to work through too:

  • Will you return to work full-time or part-time?
  • How will you manage childcare? Would you be able to afford paid childcare?
  • What will you do if your mind changes about returning to work?
  • How will you pay bills while you’re not working? (e.g. during postpartum recovery, or when your child is sick)

If you have a partner, these are considerations to work through with them as you discuss how you’ll distribute childcare and household tasks fairly.

Accept what you can and can’t control

Thinking about how and when you’ll start a family can spark anxiety about your future and the decisions you need to make. Keep in mind, there are some things you can control and some things you can’t.

You can:

  • Take care of your reproductive health, to ensure you’re in a good position to fall pregnant if you want to.
  • Research/explore different paths to motherhood, and get advice from others.
  • Focus on your career now, and work to get to a place where you can negotiate flexibility, pay, and opportunities if you do decide to become a parent.
  • Plan ahead, considering things like childcare, returning to work and leave arrangements.

You can’t:

  • Guarantee if and when you’ll fall pregnant.
  • Predict how motherhood will change you.
  • Control inherent bias against mothers – but you can advocate for yourself and other women in the workplace, or find an employer that’s more supportive of your parenthood journey.

Get support/find your community

While motherhood for working women presents tension, mothers don’t need to settle for less fulfilling careers. McKinsey research shows that moms actually display higher levels of ambition at work than women overall. And incredible role models like Whitney Wolfe-Herd show us just what moms can achieve!

Think about how you can surround yourself with other ambitious women, and get advice and support as you make this decision. And keep in mind that asking for (and accepting) help needs to be a priority for working moms.

So how can Girls in Tech help? Well, since we are your community, we’re here for you.

We believe all women are needed in the workplace, and have a right to be heard. Including moms. We offer resources, events and inspiration to help you live out your goals, whatever they may be.