Making Your Way Back to the Workforce

 mother working on couch while daughter jumps - mom as a paid labourer

Looking to re-enter the workforce? Aside from dusting off your résumé and job skills and securing competent, reliable child care, going back to work can be a daunting prospect. You’ll miss their little faces and not being there when they come bounding through the door at the end of their school day. But a quick reality check tells you that your income is essential to maintaining a decent standard of living under your roof.

Unless you are blessed with a stay at home parental unit for a partner, childcare costs can wipe out your dreams of gainful employment, while working just to make ends meet is a less than desirable prospect. Hmmm…maybe start your own daycare centre? Apparently, the money is good and there’s a growing demand...

Obstacles abound for moms seeking to rejoin Club Nine-to-Five, and they start before you make it through the front door. Knowledge, however, is power. Gaining some insight into the workforce “norms” that can scupper your goals of fast employment and attractive income earning will keep you firmly out of the clouds and grounded, armed with some hard truths and effective strategies to get you where you want to be.

Flat Out Bias

Forget the glass ceilingwatch out for those glass doors. Mothers face more discrimination in the job market than childless applicants. Men can have sired enough children to field a football team only to have praised and awe heaped upon them, but parenthood is a drawback to employers if you happen to be female. Stay at home dads have yet to balance out this inequity.

Patrick Ishizuka, assistant professor of sociology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri conducted a field experiment to study the anti-motherhood bias in the labour market.

The experiment: 2,210 fictitious applications were sent to low-wage and professional/managerial job listings in six U.S. cities. Two similarly qualified applicant résumés were sent in for each position with the only difference being one application included “signals” of motherhood, such as Parent Teacher Association volunteer work, while the other application—also for a female candidate—listed volunteer work in an organization that was unrelated to parenthood.”

The results: In the low-wage service jobs sector, childless women received a callback rate of 26.7% while mothers garnered only 21.5%. Similarly, in professional and managerial positions, 22.6% of the childless female applicants received callbacks compared to 18.4% for mothers.

The Motherhood Penalty

mom holding baby while working on laptop - helpful hints to make your way back to the workforce

Also referred to as the Family Gap or Motherhood Earnings Gap, the Motherhood Penalty occurs when becoming a mother causes a negative effect on a woman’s income.

It is tough for everyone to work while parenting, but it’s especially tough for moms because of societal norms and expectations. As Vartika Kashyap says:

“… a mother is 78 percent less likely to get hired and women in the workplace who have children earn 15 percent less than women who don’t when compared to an equally qualified non-mother.”

Employers maintain that mothers aren’t available at all hours, but after hours work is becoming increasingly frowned upon by labour unions, and companies are finally adapting to this new “overwork” intolerance. Forward-thinking companies are starting to address the problem of work-life balance. Yet still the uniquely female conundrum—i.e., working mothers being expected to work like they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t workhas working moms everywhere spinning in circles.

Burn Out

According to classic sociological literature, a “second shift” occurs when women finish their full-time paid day of work only to arrive home and begin work on unpaid family and domestic duties.

A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania found mothers who are employed outside of the home still take on a greater share of household tasks. A McKinsey study revealed that mothers are more than three times as likely to perform the majority of housework and caregiving during the pandemic. And a Visier study found 70% of full time working women do all or most of the caregiving in their home.

In a two-parent household during the pandemic’s lockdowns, one of the breadwinners had to stay home with the kids, and it was overwhelmingly Mom who did. This second shift for moms takes a measurable toll on their health, both physically and emotionally.

For those of you in a couple relationship, financial guru Warren Buffett advises that “the most important decision in your life is who your life partner is going to be.” The right partner is going to be the one “who is supportive of your decision to continue working […], will be hands on with the kids, wash the dishes, fold the laundry, change diapers, and who will be a team player and not just ‘help out’ or ‘baby sit’.”  

And don’t expect your partner to read your mind—speak up about what you need in terms of support and what you think is a reasonable distribution of labour in your household. Tracy Brower reminds us that:

“Moms can also respond by reevaluating the expectations they place on themselves. Children aren’t looking for perfect mothers, only mothers who love them deeply.” 

How to Fight Back

Give a killer interview. Make them see the value of your ability to multitask and delegate, two stereotypically maternal qualities. Call the interviewer back to follow up. Finally, research the company before going in to apply for a position there.

Not only will you impress them during your interview with your knowledge of their company, but this gives you a chance to see if and how they support mothers in the workplace. Maybe skip the secretive ones and move on to an opportunity which is more upfront about its parental benefits and childcare policies.

On the homefront, take advantage of government benefits and incentives, plus free community offerings: childcare subsidies, education savings programs, dental care programs, municipal extracurricular activities, community family events, parenting tools, etc. You need every penny you can get your hands on to keep your brood rolling forward on a smooth and enriching track.

You can also try home-based employment or side hustle to eliminate childcare costs. Just remember to get your online game up to speed, particularly if you decide to become an online retailer, and do not rely on sales to friends and family to support your new venture. Sure, ask them to spread the word, but generating sales from new markets is up to you. 

Nowadays, there are so many online entrepreneurial opportunities for and by women that allow you to set your own hours and, therefore, income level. Plus, they provide mentoring and tech support. Yay for the sisterhood!

Go forth into the fray with your chin up and these tips in your back pocket.

Maybe wipe that jelly off your neck first.

Written by Jane Thornton

Feature image: Ketut SubiyantoImage 1: Sarah Chai