Parental leave vs. competition for clients: Motherhood penalty in competitive work environments
Keywords:fatherhood, father’s quota, portfolio careers, work-family dynamics, interview study
Objective: This paper explores the role of parental leave for gendered career patterns in individualized, competitive labor markets in Norway, a culturally and politically family-friendly and gender-equal society.
Background: Despite family-friendly policies and little prejudice against mothers, there is a significant gap in wages and careers between mothers and fathers in Norway. This is particularly true in individualized, competitive parts of the labor market, such as finance banking. To understand this pattern, we must examine the institutionalized rules of the game in which portfolio workers, with individual responsibility for their portfolio of clients, operate.
Method: Drawing on in-depth interviews with 30 women and men working in Norwegian business banking, we analyze accounts of parental leave practices and how these bankers navigate the market conditions.
Results: The analyses show how the market structure for finance banking and portfolio careers limits family policies, changing parenthood norms, and firms’ goodwill. Fathers postpone, split, and adapt "leave" to fit clients' needs, thus sustaining their portfolio and career progress. In contrast, mothers, who typically take longer actual leave, give up clients and start from scratch upon return.
Conclusion: Gendered use of parental leave within competitive market conditions leads to gendered career and wage patterns. More individualized competition in the wider labor market may increase inequality in parenting and careers, despite favorable cultural norms and policies, as long as public authorities, firms, and families accept individualized logics and gender-unequal practices of parental leave.
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