After being OUT of the workforce for a few years, a mother's sense of value and worth changes. We tend to place a high monetary value on our careers, but that value diminishes with each passing year. Many mothers think that if they were earning $50k before they stopped working, they probably need to earn a little less than that when they return to the workforce - until they get up to speed.
Companies (especially more established companies with HR) established pay ranges for roles. Companies expect to pay high performers and more seasoned/experienced individuals at the higher end of the range. Individuals getting a promotion into the role, new to the role, or still getting their hands around the role, will be paid at the lower end of the range.
So why do mothers discount themselves before even applying? Why assume the "get up to speed" time translates into lower pay?
If you are applying for a role you performed competently and proficiently prior to leaving the workforce, you should expect commensurate pay. The company does not get a discount just because you left the workforce for a few years. You will return to the workforce and perform that same role just as competently and proficiently.
If you are pursuing a new role that relies on your experience, competencies and expertise, you should still be expecting competitive pay. You will not receive as much as someone who performed that same role for 3 years or is a superstar at that company. You will have room to grow. But you won't be starting behind the eight ball either. The room to grow is REASONABLE. After 3 to 4 years of normal raises, you should be receiving market median or above.
So how do you translate this into English when you are actually pursuing a role?
1. When applying for a job, work with a recruiter/career counselor (or someone like me who is a career counselor and compensation expert) to get advice when negotiating the package.
2. Do your homework. Look online and see what comparably sized companies in comparable industries (2 very important factors when comparing compensation) are paying comparable roles. NOTE THE WORD COMPARABLE!
3. If it is a public company - read the company's proxy. This is the DEF14A form the company publishes each year. You should find a link to it under the "investor relations" tab on the company's website. Alternatively check yahoo finance. The proxy discusses the company's compensation philosophy. This provides INVALUABLE information for understanding what the company's objectives are, what you should expect, and what to ask for.
4. When asked what you expect, provide a range. Start a little higher than what you would really like/expect and give yourself $10k in the range - room to negotiate.
Finally, don't discount yourself. Don't let the company. If you are applying the right job (one that can leverage your experience, competencies and skills), you should be getting paid appropriately.