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This topic is contentious and has lots of recent media coverage with particular outrage over the idea of <gasp> justifying the career gap in a way that is considered to be more ‘professionally acceptable’ than absence due to childbirth.

As a Mum and a career development professional, I can understand both sides here.

 

As a Mum…

It is easy to feel (justifiably) horrified at the news that birthing another human being and then managing to somehow keep them alive for the first few years isn’t always considered to be a ‘professionally acceptable’ reason for extended career gaps. Personally, I think it’s significantly more ‘acceptable’ than backpacking around Europe for three years and taste testing beer across 7 countries. But then I’m a Mum, so maybe I’m biased.

It is also easy to feel victimised, discriminated against and for many of us, a little violated – we are, after all, birthing and raising the next generation of, I don’t know, the… Entire. Human. Race. Surely that has to count for something?

At the moment, the value of parenting appears to only be really understood within social parametres. The relationships that we are building with both our children and our communities, our volunteer roles and our commitment to running and managing the home is no small feat, but these achievements of gargantuan proportions are failing us in the translation to work-based value. This parenting job is incredibly hard labour, minimal (if any) ‘breaks’, 24/7 high demand work with a tyrant (or two or three or God help us, an entire board) for a boss. It’s exhausting. It’s demanding. And it gives us the opportunity to develop skills in areas that we otherwise wouldn’t have had.

As an employer…

Every hiring choice is a risk. If you have two candidates with equal skills (on paper), equal experience and comparable employment history with one of them being currently employed in a similar role and the other one having been out of the workforce for 1-5 years, then perceived risk levels would usually demand that they hire the candidate with current, up to date experience. It is absolutely true that employers should in no way discriminate against anyone who has given up, or taken a leave of absence from work in order to have a baby, but we all know they often do even if it’s covered up with a more ‘socially acceptable’ reason.

Creating stories of ‘professionally acceptable’ absence justification

The recent uproar in the media was largely focused on the idea that instead of ‘owning’ your parenting role with pride and wearing it like a badge of honour (like we all should in an ideal world), we should cover up that period in our work chronology where we were away from the workforce to do our bit to further our species with something like ‘travel’ or ‘study.’

I share in the outrage at the idea of lying on your résumé. This is never a good idea. Just in case you are skimming this article, and missed that, I’m going to say it again.

Lying on your résumé is NEVER a good idea.

However, the theory behind the suggestion is rooted in plausible practicality. If the risk involved with hiring a parent who has been out of the workforce for an extended period of time is largely based on concerns for currency in industry trends or market movements, being up to date with the pulse points for client interaction, and ensuring that they are abreast of the latest regulatory changes and technology etc, then perhaps there is an opportunity in between nappy changes, preschool drop offs and propping our eyelids open with match sticks to do some professional development and ensure that our workplace value is not out-dated. Keeping our hand in may solve part of this puzzle.

Last year, the Sydney Morning Herald printed an article stating that ‘Women working part-time are the most productive in the workforce.‘ This is based on an Ernst & Young study of time wastage comparison that found part-time women wasted 11.1% of their time at work in comparison to all other workers who wasted 14.5%. I think any parent reading this would have to admit that when we get over the separation anxiety of leaving our little ones in the care of others, we are just quietly grateful to finish a hot cup of coffee, to do work that doesn’t involve clag and child-proof scissors, and actually finish a task that we start.

Essentially, we are grateful to be at work!

What we need to do, is figure out how to frame our new value proposition in business terms that hirers will understand and connect with. They might prefer a currently employed candidate equal to you in skills in general, but when presented with a candidate who has also undertaken recent professional development, has proven networking and advocacy skills and confidence in decision making, the hiring risk differential becomes less clear and the line between the candidates becomes blurry.

How do you feel about this? Do you have anything to add? Please comment below.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

  • definately very interesting to read this article. you’re right though because we SHOULDN’T be judged because we had kids and had time off work but everyone’s skills have to be current to stand a chance

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  • Interesting article, thank you for sharing.

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  • Before I had kids, I more than once hired women who’d been out of the workforce for a while, raising kids. Never a mistake.

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  • I want to get back to work as soon as possible after baby is born. Not having a job to go to makes it difficult. I was looking whilst pregnant and was discriminated against for being so – although I knew I could perform the duties they just wouldn’t give me a chance

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  • I was lucky I guess because after my gap time with my children, I went back into the payroll area and was able to highlight the fact that I was a Treasurer at three different places during my ‘time off’ paid work, while still doing secretarial work for my husbands business. It all helps to get that job back in the work force.

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  • interesting read – I think I might need to catch up with the storyline a bit further

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  • Lol, my mum gap is lasting for over 10 years now and I don’t feel for closing it. But would it be on my resume I would never lye about it. To stay at home to look after your household and children and love on them is a great choice and a beautiful thing to do, nothing to be ashamed about !


    • Absolutely nothing to be ashamed of! I’m proud of being a mum too and it’s a part of my professional identity – the committees I’m on etc work around that. But if you are going for a job, you need to speak their language so a hirer understands your value in “business speak.” If you check out the second part of this article (“selling ‘professionally acceptable’ post baby stories”), you’ll see what I mean :)

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  • Great article. I’m fortunate enough to have had a child and then be employed part-time (working from home) whilst raising my son who is now 14. It has been a fantastic arrangement for both me and my friend/employer. When I work, I am ON. I don’t take personal phone calls, or have coffee breaks, or chats at the water cooler. I have coffee at my desk only leaving to go to the bathroom, generally eat lunch at my desk (trying to get better at not doing this), and maximise my work time from the time the computer goes on until it goes off at night. I do go into the office once a fortnight (for adult conversation and to show my face) and attend client meetings at their offices. However, I find I am so much more productive working from home. Everything is there – my files, my computer, my space, my stuff. I find sitting in traffic and absolute waste of time and will sit there mulling over the time I’m not spending doing at work. When we look at employing extra help, I often suggest hiring a Mum. I feel you get more out of them. They are grateful to be at work and maximise their time to get back home to their family. I think Job Share arrangements in full time employment should be more prevalent – it would be a win win for many.


    • Thank you for your comment and feedback – it’s great when it all comes together, isn’t it?. I often say “I am lucky” as well, but the truth is that I designed my current situation quite purposefully. Creativity and innovative thought is often key to success. I completely agree with the productivity – when I get to work without my baby on my lap and my thoughts to myself, I’m like a powerhouse!

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  • Unfortunately for me, my gap is a big one. High school, then a very long “vacation” AKA kids. I can see how stay-at-home women working as part-time employees would be more productive than someone who hasn’t been raising kids. Work really can be like a holiday, enjoyable. Getting to do adult stuff. If you enjoy what you do, whatever it is, there’s a greater chance it will be done better than if you dislike it.

    Reply

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