Sadly, women who’ve taken a career break to raise a family confront chronic difficulties when trying to re-enter the paid workforce. As I reflect on my past experience hiring for several small organizations, I am proud to have helped at least a few stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) re-launch their careers. And I can honestly say previous stay-at-home moms have been some of the best employees I've worked with.
The women I hired who were returning to work after investing labor in a family stood out at the time, and they still stand out in my mind years later. Those who’ve wanted to have moved on to more lucrative positions. After all, as former SAHMs, they clearly understand the big picture and have direct experience leading in a challenging environment, two attributes that good supervisors appreciate!
In a viral LinkedIn post from 2019 that bears revisiting, a talent recruitment firm CEO urged companies to not automatically reject candidates with resume gaps. “If a woman has a gap in her resume due to raising a child or maternity leave, it does not mean that she forgot how to work or lost any of her skills,” he wrote. “Pick up the phone and have a conversation. I promise you will find some major winners.”
I agree 100 percent.
Once I was interviewing for a difficult position to fill. The job demanded a reasonable level of technical knowledge, along with general administrative and customer service strengths.
After I had cast about for a while, a trusted businesswoman called and suggested I look at an applicant whose resume was on its way. I was told that though the applicant had focused on her children in recent years, she had the technical background and was certain to impress.
One interview told me that our team needed this professional. At her request—from the outset, no less!—I gave her a shortened workday so she could be as present as possible for her children. Why would I make her work eight hours when she could solve my most difficult problems in six?
For a manager, it’s a rapturous feeling when you realize during an interview that this is the one. She doesn’t just have the skills and the intelligence for the job….I sense she can manage ME for our mutual benefit and has the maturity to scoff at office pettiness.
Frankly, I’ve noticed that those with experience as stay-at-home mothers manage their work quite well, often without the fragile neediness or unbalanced egotism of other employees. In a small organization, flexibility cuts both ways. The system lacks corporate rigidity, but employees can’t expect fully siloed jobs.
When I checked her references, another SAHM was known as a strong organizer of her children’s activities and a go-to leader for volunteer groups. The position she sought was administrative, and in her interview, she laid out the admin tasks she enjoyed, including filing. Once hired, she proved to be the planner and gentle taskmaster we needed.
Pandemic resume gaps could increase compassion for SAHMs returning to work
All of my hiring decisions were pre-pandemic. COVID-19 has been tough on moms whether they work outside the home or not, but it's my hope that a handful of pandemic-related phenomena ultimately will help deepen empathy for caregivers seeking to reignite careers.
First, now “the gap” has been more broadly experienced. A whole army of people now have a resume hole due to no fault of their own. Perhaps this will kindle understanding with and respect for job-seeking SAHMs whose gap was full of purpose yet lacking in jobless benefits.
Another pandemic reality I expect to benefit employed parents is a greater realization of the need for flexibility. Millions of top-notch employees, and parents, in particular, needed grace in 2020 and 2021.
Finally, during the tightest of the lockdowns, some of us formally acknowledged what we had always suspected: that staying home with small children all the time might be more difficult than going to work. Recruiters and prospective employers should marvel at the tenacity of those with substantial experience supervising young children.
One of the SAHMs I hired had been a full-time homemaker and director of her children’s education for at least 12 years. Her clarity of thought and calm demeanor impressed me at the time, and still do over a decade later—especially after my five-week foray into pre-k distance learning and 24/7 parenting last year.
For various reasons, most of the employees I hired happened to be women. Their education levels and professional backgrounds varied. My sample is admittedly small. Still, when I compare the former SAHMs to the others I employed, I recall no difference in commitment level or incidence of absenteeism—often cited by managers as reasons for not hiring those with maternity-related resume gaps.
On the contrary, these women are favorites long after we’ve ceased working together because by virtue of their groundedness, their maturity, and their leadership abilities, they made outsized contributions to our shared workplace.