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August 5, 2010Gender is at the core of workplace inequity.

But you wouldn’t know this from reading The New York Times.

Citing a University of Chicago study, the Times reported this week that women who had no children and never took time off had careers that “resembled those of men.” This is misleading—here’s why.

The Chicago study found that men earn roughly $15,000 more than women upon receipt of an M.B.A. Nine years later, men earn about $150,000 more. Women who had children or took time off suffered a greater penalty over time than women without children. This is not surprising—workplaces still penalize women for dialing down or temporarily leaving a traditional career track. But, remaining childless does not level the playing field for women.

Our report, Pipeline’s Broken Promise, found that men who left a corporate job for a nontraditional assignment and then returned experienced no penalty in either position or compensation, but women did. The report also found that post-M.B.A. women start behind men in job level and salary—and they never catch up. These findings hold true regardless of previous work experience, industry, geography, aspirations and parenthood status.

What to make of the fact that the last three women nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court were unmarried and had no children? The Times article implies that not having children allowed these women to focus on their careers. But what of the many female leaders who have children?

In Women and Men in U.S. Corporate Leadership, Catalyst surveyed nearly 1,000 senior-level women and men, most within two levels of the CEO. We found that 81% of the women were married or living with a partner, compared with 97% of the men. And there was less discrepancy around whether they had children living with them: 51% of the women did, compared with 57% of the men.

The most powerful businesswomen in America are mothers, too. There are currently 14 female Fortune 500 CEOs. At least 12 of them have kids.

Blaming inequity on factors like motherhood obscures a simple truth: entrenched biases and sexist stereotypes impact all women. Misrepresenting this reality doesn’t solve the problem. It distracts all of us—including employers who lose out on great talent—from addressing core inequity.