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Why is Ending the Motherhood Penalty so Important?

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

By Daniella Cornue, Owner and Founder of Le Village Cowork

“Why is it so important?” My mom lit up a cigarette and looked at me intently taking a long draw. “It’s OK to just be content you know. You’ve done amazing things already. You’ve got two locations yourself, you’ve got friends opening locations of their own at their own pace. You don’t have to find all these franchisees. You don’t have to kill yourself and take over the world.”

“I know. I know that Mom.” I was avoiding her glare as if she couldn’t already see right through me.

We had come together to have some family time, and as it often does these days, our family time turned into work time. We were sifting through budgets, objectives, and line items for Le Village. I think she could see it. A little bit of that “tired” creeping in on the edges of me. A little less of myself to give to my family and my daughter. A little bit of that burnout that everyone else talks about. Not a lot. But a little.

I got up and watched my daughter playing in the yard. She is, at this point in her life, all things “feminine”. She’s sitting on a blanket beading friendship bracelets, wearing a pink tutu and a tiara. She’s unapologetic in her love of unicorns and the colors pink and purple. No matter how hard I tried to imbue the idea of neutrality upon her she is resoundingly my “girly girl”. I guess I’m not particularly neutral either with my love of a good smoky eye and a classic stiletto.

“She’s just like you at this age,” my mom was smiling watching her. “Stubborn. And always negotiating her way into getting what she wants.”

“Well not much has changed then,” I laughed.

I sighed and reopened the report that I had been reading. Scholarly data and research articles littered the patio table in front of me. I highlighted one particular sentence that I found alarming. Or encouraging? In 2022, 97% of women aged 25-34 earned as much as their male counterparts.

**Women had in fact, finally achieved gender wage parity.**

Yippee! The one caveat? These women were not mothers. Mothers of the same age earned only 85%. A 12-point gap. By the time we hit 35, women made only 80% of what their male counterparts were making.

There it was. The Motherhood Penalty. Considering the fact that 86% of women are mothers in this country—well we actually haven’t really done much of anything, have we?

Oh. And that’s white women.

The words screamed back at me — Moms are 114% more likely than dads to take a career pause. 64% of stay-at-home moms say they would need a more flexible schedule to return to work. Over a million fewer moms with kids under 13 are employed now as opposed to pre-pandemic. Childcare is "crushingly" expensive for families.

I tossed the pages down on the table.

After a pause, I mused out loud, “Mom, did you think that the workplace would be different for me?”

“I suppose I hoped it would be better. But no, I guess I didn’t expect that it would be perfect. Progress was good enough.”

“Do you think we’ve made progress?

“Yes, I do think that we’ve made some progress. Not enough progress, unfortunately,” she paused eyeing me and puffing her cigarette. “Maybe that’s because we never had very high expectations. We were just happy to be there. To be able to provide for our families and play in the game.”

I looked over at my daughter and tried to stuff down the memories of sexism when I went to work at 22. Men who thought it was okay to put their hands on my knees during meetings, who took my work as their own, or even forcibly kissed me as a “joke” in front of my coworkers. Of how I was afraid to tell anyone and be labeled as a “problem.” And how it didn’t matter either way in the end. I thought about the promotions I was passed over for. I thought about being relegated to the closet to pump my breast milk after I had my daughter because no one realized using the conference room with no curtains would be an issue. I thought about being othered over and over and over again in my career. I felt the heat of embarrassment and failure crawl up my cheeks and sting the back of my eyes as I watched my perfect girl play in the yard.

“Well, that’s why opportunity and flexibility for working mothers is so important, Mom. Because I am expecting so much more than the way that I went to work.

If we can even make a dent in the Motherhood Penalty, if we can even make the smallest impact for working mothers and give them what they need, so they can stay in the workforce the way they want to and need to—then we make that impact for all working women. Because those women in mid-level and upper leadership MATTER. Young women need them. We need representation at all levels! That’s what I am really trying to do through Le Village!”

Maybe if women were respected and empowered when I was 22 then I wouldn’t have had the experiences I did. I would have been protected. Maybe if there was more than a singular woman on the executive leadership board at the companies I grew up in then I would have gotten that promotion. Maybe if there was a mom alongside me who was raising her primary-aged children and watching me struggle as a new mom–I wouldn’t have felt so alone. But there wasn’t. And we haven’t made much progress.

I don’t want to build up this bright, joyful smart, beautiful human being, and send her into the workforce with all these high hopes and expectations and have them smothered within a few short years! I won’t do it!

But I know I can’t do this alone. It’s too big for me—and these bro-techs, corporate execs, privileged whatever the hell we are supposed to call them – they have all the money and carry all the cards. They don’t care about this problem because it’s not THEIR problem.

No one is coming to save the mothers. We are supposed to quietly do the unseen work of raising kids and take a pay cut because we can’t “fully commit” to 40-hour work weeks + commute time, happy hours, client meetings that MUST happen after hours, working evenings and weekends to hit a deadline, or relentless travel schedules.

But I AM stubborn. And I won’t give up! I don’t need a savior, I need a partner. I need an army. And that’s what I am building with Le Village. And, that’s why it’s important for us to find franchisees.

The Motherhood Penalty is all of our - collectively “our” as women in the workplace - problem. If we can’t fix it for mothers, we can’t expect to create change for women, and we certainly can’t expect to create change for the future women and girls entering the workforce. It’s our responsibility to fight for them. To protect them, as best we can.

I looked at my mom, re-finding my purpose, “At the end of the day, all of this, all of this work—it’s still for Vivie. Just like Le Village really always has been. I want to fix this for her. She WILL have a seat at the table if she wants one.”

My mom smirked—and then burst out laughing, “Well, okay then! Forget I asked.” She cackled and put out her cigarette.

We smiled watching Vivie.

“We can do this," I whispered, half to my mom, and half to myself.

I really believe we can. So let’s get to work.


Le Village is looking for franchise owners in Chicago. The ideal candidate is a mother or parent looking to pivot work experience into business ownership. We have compiled franchise information on our website.

Do you know someone who could be a good fit? Help us by sending them our way. The first step is to fill out our information request form. Our team will be in touch from there!

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