You might be familiar with ‘the glass ceiling’, but what is the ‘maternal wall’? It’s an umbrella term for the myriad biases and obstacles that face working mothers and caregivers.

Interestingly, becoming a parent sees both men and women leave STEM at surprisingly high rates. Nearly one-quarter of men with full-time STEM jobs will leave them after becoming a parent. Even so, women leave at almost twice the rate of men. Women are both more stigmatised for being child carers than men and penalised financially by doing far more of this unpaid work.

But what is it about STEM that makes these figures particularly stark? One theory points to cultural expectations within STEM. Intensive hours, the rapid pace to develop innovation, and deeply embedded assumptions about motherhood (that one cannot be a committed professional and mother at the same time), all cause STEM to lose talented researchers and innovators.

This has knock-on effects for us all, regardless of whether we work in STEM or not. Who knows if some of those who leave could have developed important vaccines or climate mitigation strategies? What are we all missing out on when these people rich in human capital leave STEM?

For more on this topic, see this study. It argues for cultural and systemic shifts within STEM to prevent the huge loss of human capital from STEM workplaces.

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