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Stay-at-Home Stigma: Employers More Likely to Hire Laid-Off Workers Than SAHMs

Topics: Data & Research
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In the “terrible things we kind of hoped weren’t true” category, it seems that employers really do tend to look past stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs) when it comes to hiring.

Kate Weisshaar, associate professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina has made a career of studying gender inequality in the labor force. Weisshaar’s study, published recently in the American Sociological Review, delved into the bias (unconscious or not) that employers have against that resume gap that parents who choose to stay home to raise their children are stuck with.

How the Study Played Out

Weisshaar sent out thousands of resumes for a variety of jobs. She writes in the Harvard Business Review about her study:

“I developed a set of résumés to represent three types of job applicants: currently employed applicants with no employment gaps, unemployed applicants, and stay-at-home parent applicants. Male or female names made the applicants appear to be either men or women. The application materials implied that all fictitious applicants were parents and all applicants had the same level of experience, number of jobs, and skills. Those who had employment gaps had been out of the workforce for 18 months.”

Weisshaar mailed out 3,374 resumes to job listings in 50 different cities for accountants, financial analysts, software engineers, HR managers, and marketing directors over a few months spanning 2015 and 2016. She tracked which of these thousands of applications received some sort of callback, whether it was a request for more information or an interview invitation.

What the Study Showed

The unfortunate results were that SAHMs were penalized at a much higher rate, all things being equal, than their continuously employed counterparts.

“The results show just how heavily parents reentering the workforce are penalized for their career gap: 15.3% of the employed mothers, 9.7% of the unemployed mothers, and 4.9% of the stay-at-home mothers received a callback,” Weisshaar notes. “The results were similar for fathers. While 14.6% of the employed fathers and 8.8% of unemployed fathers received a callback, only 5.4% of stay-at-home fathers did.”

What this means is that stay-at-home-parents (SAHPs) were about half as likely to get a response from a potential job as unemployed parents and only one-third as likely as employed parents. While this study didn’t show dramatic gender discrimination (since SAHMs fared just as unfortunately as SAHFs), it did unfortunately show that the stigma of having that gap in your resume is alive and kicking.

What We All Have In Common

The study showed that both SAHPs and those who had a resume gap due to unemployment were both passed over in favor of someone who was currently employed. That old adage that says “It’s easier to land a new job when you already have a job” — it seems like it’s actually true.

Do you have a gap in your resume? It might not be due to taking a few years off to be home and involved in your child’s formative years. It might be for time you took to take care of an ill parent, or even the time it took to find new employment after a layoff or after finishing school. Dealing with the “gap stigma” is a problem nearly anyone can have at some point in their career.

No matter what, employers seem to see that gap as a sign of damaged goods. In her study, Weisshaar found that employers assumed that SAHPs who had taken a break from their career had in turn let their skills go rusty.

What You Can Do About It

There’s a lot you can do to try and stand out and fight the impression you’ve just been watching Caillou videos for a few years.

  • Stay present: If you choose to have children or have time off from your career, work hard to keep those connections alive. Whether you’re doing it thru making new connections online with platforms like LinkedIn, going to the occasional networking event (get out of the house and get some free cheap wine, why don’t you), or just emailing with your former coworkers sometimes.
  • Keep learning: Fight the stigma that you’re standing in place by taking an online class, learning a new skill with some at-your-own-pace distance learning, or simply read and figure out some on-demand skills for your resume. Add them to your CV when you’re done!
  • Shine bright: Can you find a way that parenthood is influencing your career, and vice versa? It might be you can offer up some unique insights to your field, so make them known! There are so many online publishing platforms that you don’t have to just blog to get your name out there. Keep it professional and you might find your brain likes the exercise of dabbling in your chosen field, between helping with homework and mac n’ cheese consumption.
  • Twerk that resume: That’s right…twerk it. Get creative! There are loads of tips for adjusting your resume when you want to jump back in the workaday life, and even how to talk through that gap if you happen to get to the interview stage. Gaps don’t have to be a killer, as long as you’re confident in you’re awesomeness, you’ll do great!

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Are you surprised by the results of this study? Why or why not? We want to hear from you! Comment below or join the discussion on Twitter.

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