Good news for mothers returning to the workforce

By Kathy Gurchiek May 12, 2006
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Changing attitudes about work/life balance, changing technology and more women than men earning college degrees today can work to the advantage of stay-at-home moms mulling a return to a job outside the home, says a global outplacement firm.

With an anticipated labor shortage as baby boomers retire, companies slow to recognize the contributions of working mothers may lose the battle for talent, according to John Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“The job market overall is getting stronger, a trend that will attract people who have been sitting on the sidelines, including stay-at-home mothers,” he said in a press release.

He offered the following tips for women who lack paid job experience or who have been out of the workforce for a while:

    • Take an inventory of experiences gathered away from the working world. Two years as a PTA president undoubtedly required managerial and organizational skills, for example.

    • Don’t limit yourself to a previous job title. Boil down your skills to their fundamental roots, such as project management, copy writing, accounting.

    • Network using friends and other acquaintances, such as parents you met at the park or while serving on a committee.

    • Consider part-time work as an entrée to a full-time position.

    • Do not become over-reliant on the Internet. It is important to get out and meet people.

    • When interviewed, focus on the qualities that make you the best candidate for the job. Concerns about leaving early to drive your child to band practice can be worked out later.

The biggest challenge for women considering re-entering the job market after staying home to raise a family is overcoming the stereotype that their commitment to their family will overshadow their commitment to their job, Challenger said.

However, the increased availability of portable technology such as laptop computers, cell phones and wireless Internet devices is helping workers manage their commitments to work and family, he noted.

“People can work from the bleachers at a child’s soccer game or late at night after the kids have gone to bed,” he said.

And 68 percent of working mothers believe that their bosses recognize that they do a great job of balancing their role of mother and employee, according to a survey of 5,165 U.S. adults conducted April 13-30 for Adecco Staffing North America.

Only 4 percent of the more than 2,612 women in that survey said that their bosses think that they are not as committed to their jobs because they have children. Also, 33 percent of the women felt that their colleagues think that their role as a mother gives them more insight, the ability to juggle multiple priorities and have better management skills,

“In the past, women have felt they have to choose one or the other—building a family or building a career—but that is simply not the case anymore,” Adecco’s senior vice president of human resources, Bernadette Kenny, said in a press release.

Women looking to balance job and family may want to talk to the employer about telecommuting, suggests Adecco’s Kenny. In addition, they should be realistic about the amount of time they are able to spend with their children and make the most of that time. And they should involve the father more with child care and household responsibilities.

Employers can help by being as flexible as possible, such as allowing telecommuting when their child is sick, offering compressed work schedules and providing day care in or near the workplace.

“Women have truly progressed in terms of being successful at work and as mothers,” she said.

“But they haven’t done it on their own. Companies that have instituted programs and policies to help provide working mothers, and fathers for that matter, more flexibility and parental resources have contributed greatly to this advancement of working parents in the workforce.”

Working mothers, though, say there is room for improvement for companies willing to help them master balancing work and family.

Nearly half of the women said a more flexible work environment would allow them to adapt more as an employee and as a mother, and 37 percent said their work environment would be more accommodating if they felt they were treated the same as working fathers at the same level or position.

And for stay-at-home moms who doubt their monetary worth, they may want to readjust their thinking.

Salary.com ​estimated a stay-at-home mother’s contributions—from van driver to family psychologist to cook—as worth an annual salary of $134,121 for 91.6 hours on the job per week. That’s up from its 2005 estimate of $131,471.

For mothers working outside the home, their “mom jobs” salary was calculated at $85,876 for 49.8 hours in addition to time spent at the workplace.

Kathy Gurchiek is an associate editor at HR News. She can be reached at kgurchiek@shrm.org

Related articles:

Study: Reducing hours isn’t always a career killer, HR News, Feb. 22, 2005.

Welcoming Back Mom, HR Magazine, June 2004.

For the latest HR-related business and government news, go daily to www.shrm.org/hrnews

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