Parenting And Careers: One Or The Other?

I frequently answer audience questions after keynotes. Often they are questions I’ve heard before. Recently, I got a new one. And that was, “What can companies do to help women get back into the workforce after they have taken time off to raise families?”

My answer didn’t focus on what companies can do to help women who have taken a lengthy hiatus from their careers and want to return. Instead, I focused on what parents can do to stay in the workforce so that there is not a challenge in returning to it. Sure, there is value in companies helping parents get back to work after extended leaves. Some companies are actively working on this by implementing “internship” opportunities for people reentering the workforce.  However, I don’t believe this will be a broadly adopted approach anytime soon.

To avoid the potential pain from re-engaging your career later, my best advice is to never completely leave your career in the first place. If you do, chances are high there will be a big penalty in the level of position and pay you can attain. Even with talent shortages in certain industries and professions, there is still great competition for jobs. When employers are screening resumes, they almost always pass on those with extensive gaps in their work history. Unfortunately, it’s just a fact. Are there exceptions? Sure. But they are exceptions, not the norm.

Being a parent is one of the most important and most difficult jobs in the world. If someone wants to dedicate themselves to being a full-time parent, then by all means they do so. But if you think you will want, or need to get back to work at some point in the future, and you want to stay in your current industry or field, I encourage you to stay engaged in some manner. Even it if is carving out a few hours per week to do freelance work, you will stay current and avoid a big history gap on your resume. Resumes are never penalized for part-time work history. In most cases, it’s not even detectable. Once you have the interview, you may disclose that if you wish. And even so, I’ve never known someone’s skills to be unfairly scrutinized just because they didn’t work full time. In fact, the talent acquisition professionals I’ve talked to hold part-timers in high regard because they are viewed as dedicated to not only their families, but their careers. They are also perceived as people who can manage competing priorities, which is a valued skill.

If you would like to learn more about how to be successful in your career, please see Chapter 11 in my new book, Money On The Table, available here.