Working Moms: Redefining Success & Finding Balance in the Life Sciences

Working Moms: Redefining Success & Finding Balance in the Life Science Industry 

With one in three employed women in the U.S. also raising children at home, and the majority of U.S. moms working at least part-time, moms are seriously putting in work. 

In 2021 the US Department of Labor found that between 62-72% of mothers in married-couple families are employed depending on the age of their children, while the proportion rises to 64-76% for single mothers. Moreover, 3% more moms work full-time compared to women without children, with around 80% of working moms employed full-time.  

Working Moms in Life Sciences

That most moms work full-time should be no surprise in an era marred with rising costs of living. In fact, a 2019 Pew profile on U.S. mothers showed that while women are more likely to become moms than in the past, they are having children later in life, opting to spend their early adulthood pursuing education, career development, and higher earnings to establish financial security for their families. 

Take for example Jennifer Hotchkin, Executive Director of Global Marketing and Commercial Planning for ALS and neurodegenerative diseases at Clene Nanomedicine, who spoke with BioSpace about how she’s learned to balance motherhood and her career in life sciences. With an interest in science, medicine and helping patients, Hotchkin first entered the life sciences industry as a pharmaceutical sales rep directly after college and spent the first 10 years of her career focused on learning and growth before becoming a mom. 

“I was a curious, driven, hard-working, first-generation college grad that said yes to every new opportunity,” Hotchkin said of her early career. Motherhood, though, taught Hotchkin the precious value of time. Hotchkin said being a mom taught her how to rethink her priorities and goals and to say “no,” or “not now.” Hotchkin reflected that her kids have taught her to always seek the “why” when considering decisions at home and at work.  

That said, the social expectation that moms must remain the primary caretakers at home poses a challenge to any woman with educational or career aspirations outside of the home. The same Pew report showed that U.S. adults feel working moms face more pressure to be involved in housework and childcare than to build successful careers or support their families financially, with the opposite expected of men and working fathers. 

From a reluctance to leave secure jobs with values and goals that no longer aligned with her own to difficulties finding reliable childcare in the wake of Covid-19, Hotchkin mentioned some of the greatest challenges to working moms involve unrealistic expectations about what success looks like. Especially in the post-pandemic era, Hotchkin contended that success is not confined to traditional work frameworks and called for a re-imagining of work and life achievement for all working parents. 

Talking Numbers

Aside from negotiating the tension between career and family, working moms face further obstacles in the workplace. In many cases, the wage gaps women face (women, in general, earn $0.84 for every $1.00 their male counterparts earn) are exacerbated for working mothers, who earn an average of $0.75 compared to working fathers, and as low as $0.65-67 to every dollar in service and maintenance industries. Furthermore, a 2018 study of employment trends in Denmark found that the already unequitable earnings for women suffer a dramatic fall following the birth of their first child. 

Despite such stark wage disparity, a 2021 McKinsey study found that working moms are more likely to aspire for promotions to managerial or executive positions. Yet, the study also showed promotion rates for women have declined amidst increased pressure for mothers to shift focus from their careers back to the home in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The trends in wage and promotion disparity between men and women echo through the life sciences industry. In fact, according to the BioSpace 2022 Life Sciences Salary Report, the average salary for women in life sciences is 9% less than men, and the average bonus for women is 30% lower. In kind, women in life sciences are less likely to report fair promotion opportunities at work.

While the healthcare industries may feature slightly better representation of women than across all other industries, this representation suffers a sharp decline when moving from entry-level positions to managerial and executive roles, and these promotion rates have only declined since the pandemic hit (from 8.3% promotion rate for women to SVP and C-suite levels in 2019 to 0.8% in 2021). 

So, women working in life sciences fields are not only under-paid and under-represented compared to their male counterparts, as they grind through the ranks, they see fewer and fewer fellow women amongst their peers around the boardroom table. Indeed, among biotech-specific companies, women comprise nearly half of the global workforce but account for only 31% of executives and 23% of CEOs. 

Bridging the Gap

None of this is new, though. In recent years, demands for equitable wages and increased representation across all industries for women, people of color and other underrepresented or marginalized groups have had some degree of success, with more companies taking action on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives (83% of companies surveyed in 2021 vs 70% in 2020).  

Although conversations around corporate DEI are becoming more familiar, companies often treat DEI with broad strokes, dumping all underrepresented groups into one bucket. As a result, it becomes difficult to address the challenges or inequalities each specific group faces.  

Even though industries like education, healthcare, and social assistance employ 40% of working moms, there is a dearth of data or media coverage available giving insight to the experiences of mothers working specifically in the life and biological sciences industries. That said, if the general trends comparing working moms to working women without children hold for the life sciences industries, then one can expect to find even worse conditions for those badass moms pulling double-duty in the office and at home. 

While much remains to establish equity for working women and working moms, positive trends in workplace representation and the recent pushes for DEI initiatives are encouraging. Moms like Jen Hotchkin can be models for generations of young women who want to forge vibrant careers and raise healthy families. For women and moms interested in careers in the life sciences, Hotchkin gave the following advice: 

  • Follow your passion: Never underestimate what you have to offer. 
  • Find people you respect, trust, and value: Tap into your network to expand your opportunities. 

  • Choose an organization and team that align your values: Life is too short to be unhappy and not contribute to a broader goal. 

  • Keep patients at the center of the work you do. 

If the wheel of progress is slow to turn, working moms will surely continue to carry the weight until its full revolution. While the life science industry should continue to highlight inequities in hiring, wages and career advancement that women face across the board the unique experiences of working moms deserve a few headlines, too.

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