Thought Leaders//

The Career Break

The transition from employee to mother to working mother can be a challenging shift.

By Liderina/Shutterstock
By Liderina/Shutterstock

This coming Sunday marks International Women’s Day, an important time for us to celebrate working mothers everywhere. As a working mom myself, I’m happy that LinkedIn is using the occasion to shine a light on the experiences faced by women returning to work after taking a career break. 

Becoming a parent changes your life — believe me, it transformed mine completely and unimaginably — and the transition from employee to mother to working mother can be a significant and sometimes challenging shift. In fact, our research shows that more than half (63%) of hiring managers recognize there are unnecessary obstacles that make it difficult for mothers to advance in their careers.

Smart organizations are beginning to invest seriously in better-supporting mothers who are looking to re-enter the workforce after a career break. So, we’ve used exclusive LinkedIn survey data to inform tips and advice that will help you tap into this overlooked talent pool.

Consider An Untapped Talent Pool

Today, there are talent shortages in industries around the world, and more employers than ever are struggling to fill open jobs. 

While employers are struggling to find talent, many mothers looking to return to the workforce have the skills needed in their industries but are still having trouble finding opportunities. In fact, more than half (64%) of hiring managers recognize that there are unnecessary obstacles that make it challenging for mothers to advance in their careers.

While hiring managers recognize these challenges, they also understand that the soft skills you build as a mother such as being hard-working (49%) having strong time management skills (37%) and patience (30%) can be a strong advantage in the workplace.

In order to stay competitive, and to help fill in-demand jobs, hiring managers must expand their recruitment strategies in order to find great talent. Companies like IBM and Toyota have spearheaded apprenticeship programs that don’t require a college degree. At LinkedIn, we’ve invested in our REACH apprenticeship program for prospective engineers. The program is open to people with an associate’s degree, those who are self-taught, and others. 

Nix the Career Gap Stigma

While the majority of hiring managers (98%) noted that they’d consider hiring an employee with a career break, our research found that more than half (52%) of women feel they will be dismissed if they highlight this gap on their resume. Further, almost sixty percent (58%) of hiring managers surveyed think parents should share any career gaps or breaks they’ve had on their resume. Given this disconnect, there may be some unconscious bias in the recruiting process that must be addressed. 

To help break this stigma, hiring managers can look at making nuanced changes to the language used in job postings, and identify and acknowledge ways biases may influence how they view candidates with career breaks.

Encourage Mothers Returning To Work

Simple steps can make all the difference to help support mothers returning to work after a career break. 

Our research found that the most important things a company can do to foster a more inclusive, equal workplace for working mothers are allowing employees to work a more flexible schedule (67%) and offering robust parental policies and benefits (45%). 

Companies can look at these needs to explore ways to better support working mothers – whether that be allowing work-from-home days, later start times to accommodate childcare/school drop-off, or flexibility throughout the day should kids need to go to the doctor or an appointment. 

As a working mother in leadership with a young son, I have experienced many “crystal” and “rubber” moments. Crystal moments occur when I must shift work schedules in order to prioritize my family – these moments include graduations, birthdays or health-related needs. Rubber moments occur when I can be more flexible in order to prioritize important work. Rubber moments include baseball games or movie night. Some moments happen only once in a lifetime while others are repeated. Having built-in flexibility in my work schedule makes spending quality time, during those crystal moments, with my family possible. 

The Importance of Belonging for Working Mothers

What a company promises regarding flexibility and benefits may not reflect the actual workplace culture. Our research found that nearly half (49%) of working professionals feel that mothers who return to work after a career break are not taken as seriously as their peers and more than one-third (34%) of working parents feel left out socially at work. 

When it comes to nurturing talent, fostering an environment where employees feel empowered to bring their full selves to work is critical, and it’s often up to managers and leadership to create this culture of belonging in the workplace. At LinkedIn, our working moms report again and again that the most important element is having a manager that supports, recognizes and celebrates the job parents have outside the office, and our research found that over 30% of working mothers acknowledge the importance of having executives who are outspoken leaders on the importance of parental obligations and/or policies that support working parents. 

Additionally, creating a space for parents to come together and connect in the workplace can be a key way to develop a culture of belonging. Over 1 in 4 working mothers look at working at companies with programs in place that support working parents (28%) such as employee resource groups and co-workers that understand their commitment outside of work (29%). 

Having support from a company that values your work, your voice, and your role as a mother is paramount in the transition of coming back to work and feeling a sense of belonging.

While today is a day to recognize the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and working mothers globally– we will only truly achieve diversity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace when we begin to recognize our own biases when it comes to working parents and close the gaps that exist everywhere from hiring to onboarding, and beyond. By working together, we can help working parents everywhere do it all. 

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