Recently, a hospitalist managed to offended at least half of his peers. In a gist, he said female doctors are lazier than male doctors and deserved their pay gap because of it.

Women represent at least 50% of medical school classes in the U.S. And that number is growing. In 2016, Females represented 49.8% of students. In 2017, that figure is 50.7%.

Let me zoom in on my experience to drive a point. In my engineering class, there were only 10% of us females. (True fact: there were more people named David than there were girls in my computer science classes.) There was no issue whether guys or girls were more intelligent. We girls were proof that STEM is for everybody. We graduated with the same classes, same record, same grades.

I keep in touch with many of my peers since graduation (thanks, Facebook!). And there was a very distinct pattern:

My fellow female peers always stayed the same in our careers as our male peers. But the only difference is that at a certain point, my female peers bore children. After the moment we females became moms, I saw differences in our careers — and sometimes, quite frankly, our pay.

Even though we females worked, we still did more in the household. When kids were sick, we were the ones who stay home. When they needed to go to the doctors, we took them.

That kind of extra load takes a toll on our careers.

That’s why we pass up on assignments, travel opportunities, and shelf projects. Meanwhile, our childless male peers got promoted.

You have to take a look at the situation as not women vs. men, but as women who bear children vs. everybody else.

It’s a motherhood penalty.

But we shouldn’t be penalized. There is value for us as a society to have children and parents to care for them.

To solve this, we need to make policy changes.

  1. First, not only women but also men need longer and guaranteed maternity and paternity leave. And men should be forced to take it as a use it or lose it benefit.
  2. We need to make it the norm for dads to wear baby carriers, go to parent-teacher conferences, and go to “mommy and me” classes. (Obvi, change the name to include dads, too.) Even if moms want to be the primary caregiver, that should be our choice. We should not be ASSUMED to be the only caregiver. Likewise, if dads want to be the primary caregiver, they should not be stigmatized.
  3. Employers should make arrangements for working moms and dads like flexible hours, job sharing, working from home, or part-time. The name we usually call this is “Mommy track.” (Again, get rid of the word “Mommy.”) These arrangements have to be formal, offered to all, and well-designed. We should not have to fear if it will be revoked or coming back to a dead end job.

All of these changes is good not just for parents, but for employers as well. Good employers recognize that in return for being “family friendly” during those very short number of years when children are young, they will get very hardworking, loyal employees. In a blink of an eye, we will say goodbye to kids on the bus as they go to school full-time. And we have THE REST OF OUR LIVES to fully devote to our careers.

There is always a downside: childless people will get the short end of the stick in these changes.

I don’t see a way around this for these people. But I think if any of them were born into a family, they should see value in it for society as a whole. Surely they would have wished their own parents were able to raise them in a society that was friendlier to young families. Although the years that their parents raised them have passed, these changes start now for their siblings, cousins, friends, and future generations. In addition, they should see that if these changes don’t happen, they will see women leak out of the workforce at every level. What a shame to see a loss of talented politicians, doctors, engineers, teachers, artists, business people, and so on, who are women.

If society makes it normal for men and women to be sharing the responsibilities at home, and employers recognize the value of working parents who are caring for children and make it easier to do so, then I believe the gender pay gap will close up.

The pay gap is not a woman’s issue.

It’s a family issue.

The issue of parents not making enough to pay for daycare, although closely related, is a topic for another day.

But let’s start with closing the pay gap first.