Recently, a Harvard Business Review article came out with a finding that “many employers are biased against job applicants who have temporarily stayed at home with their children, even preferring laid-off applicants who have been out of work for the same amount of time.”
Opting out of work to care for children “signals a violation of ideal worker norms to employers—norms that expect employees to be highly dedicated to work.” Opt out applicants are perceived as less committed to work, less reliable, and less deserving of a job than are unemployed applicants. Employers may be concerned about stay-at-home parents’ prioritizing family over work and worry that such an applicant will decide to leave work again or that they will face difficulties transitioning back to work.
Using fictitious resumes, this study revealed that stay-at-home parents were about half as likely to get a callback for an interview as unemployed parents and only one-third as likely as employed parents. It is worth noting that the employers in the study viewed both stay-at-home applicants and unemployed applicants as less capable than continuously employed applicants (perhaps thinking their skills had declined while they were not working).
But many parents do just this – take time off working to care for kids. A study from 2015 reported that over the past 20 years, 18-20% of mothers did not work for pay, in order to care for children for one or more years, compared to a peak rate of only about 1.2% among fathers. (Flood et al. 2015)
If you opt-out now but plan to re-enter the market at some point, you’ll need to address these issues! One approach is to return to a past employer that already knows you are committed to your work. Another is to do some things while at home caring for children that will improve you as a candidate later. You can demonstrate that your skills are current, because you are still engaged professionally. You are reliable and committed because you carry on with commitments even while “staying at home.” You are comfortable with transitioning back and forth from parenting to professional life by having outside obligations and accomplishments. You are dedicated to work even while you take time for family.
Here are some specific ways to be able to show these skills and qualities:
There is perhaps nothing worse than reaching the top of the ladder and discovering that you’re on the wrong wall.
When it comes to our careers, we often feel such a strong pull to do the responsible thing. We work hard, reaching out for the next rung. There are family expectations, cultural pressures, and just so many “shoulds” to answer to:
This video clip is a Moth story from a woman who was way up near the top of the wrong ladder. It’s from Trisha Rose Burt, and she makes a big career change when she finally realizes “I don’t want to do what other people want me to do, or think I should do anymore.” I think you’ll like it!
We must be willing to let go of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
— Joseph Campbell