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At work, women hit the ‘Mommy wall’

Professional women with advanced degrees who quit jobs to raise children are discovering a steep price has been paid for their time off, reports NBC's Janet Shamlian.

Like many moms, Mindy Hauptman feels she's overqualified for carpool, but she believes she's also overqualified for her part-time marketing job at a bank in a Philadelphia suburb. 

After taking three years off to raise kids, she wanted to pick up where she left off. But despite her MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, no one would hire her for an executive job, much less at her old salary.

"I work with people, [and] I know I have as much experience as they have," says Hauptman. "I know I'm as competent as they are, and yet they're more senior than me."

Hauptman says taking the break grounded her skyrocketing career. And she has company, according to a Wharton survey of 130 professional women. Despite earning MBAs that many thought would protect them, these women said they were rarely candidates for executive jobs. After taking time off for motherhood, 61 percent changed industries, 54 percent had to change roles, changed their type of job and 59 percent took jobs with smaller companies.

"The people they were interviewing with would often put them on the defensive about it and say, 'You're not really up to speed,’ or, ‘You're not really ready,'" says Dr. Monica McGrath, who co-authored the study.

Quietly, many in the workplace who didn't take time off say fair is fair. In fact, author Warren Farrell says CEOs have told him they can't afford to hire these women back.

"You can't ask a company to subsidize you being at home with children and still expect to work for a company that will be tops in its field for 20 to 30 years," says Farrell, who wrote a book titled "Why Men Earn More."

Stepping off the career track is a long way off for most of the women students at the Wharton School of Business, but many of them are already talking about it. MBA student Esther Hong wants to run a company, but unlike women of a previous generation, concedes she may to give up that dream. 

"If I go home and want to have kids, I'm not going to be able to be as successful as my male counterparts when I want to come back into the workforce," she says.

That's something Mindy Hauptman says she's already discovered.