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.
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