Don’t buy me flowers for Mother’s Day. They die. Don’t buy me chocolate either because it makes me fat. Mimosas won’t work because I’m nursing twins and sleeping is a pipe dream for 2014. So when I was asked what I wanted for Mother’s Day, I decided to think about it as a profession-oriented career coach who has built her practice encouraging mothers to reevaluate their contributions at home in preparation for their reentry into the workforce.
What does this career-focused mom want for Mother’s Day from her men (I have three boys, one toddler and baby twins)? My request is forward-looking. Boys, when you grow up to become men in positions of power, I want you to champion prospective hires who are mothers and made the risky decision to leave the workforce, whether for one year or 10 years. Instead of seeing their “mom” time as an employment gap, count that time as their focusing on mitigating costs. Evaluate her accomplishments on the same playing field as that of executives, consider her childrearing years as career-building rather than career-destroying, and pay for the new skill sets that she acquired as a people leader of her household. Here’s why, and later, I’ll explain how.
Few women reenter the workforce full time. About 43% of professional women leave their jobs after having children. Out of that number, 74% of those females will rejoin the workforce in any capacity, and about 40% return full time, all according to a recent study from the Center for Work-Life Policy. Some moms don’t want to return. Others are given poor job offers that penalize them for their decision. My focus is on preventing the latter under your watch.
Now, I anticipate that for the next eighteen years on every Mother’s Day, you will say how much you appreciate my sacrifices and contributions to shaping the men you are. So take a leap. Give the same dignity to mothers like myself in a professional setting. Just like we moms don’t leave our wallet-sized pictures of you at home when we go to the office, we also don’t leave at home our ability to drive change in individuals as well as organizations.
If you drive this change in perspective within your organizations, counting our times as moms as part of our professional careers, I promise it will in turn help your career. Moms have a $2 trillion purchasing power in the U.S. alone. We like working for and doing business with companies who invest in us. Why else would companies try to make the top Working Mother 100 Best Companies every year? We are some of the most loyal employees. It will make business sense to endorse mothers. So how can you rethink a mother’s child-rearing experiences so that it aligns with your organizations’ needs?
Here are the top four ways to rethink a mother’s experience while interviewing her so that you’ll facilitate the reentrance of career-driven mothers when you boys grow up.
1. Don’t think about the time she “took off” to focus on parenting as an employment gap—it’s the time when she decided to focus on costs rather than revenues.
A real employment gap is when someone stops contributing outside of themselves, not just any time someone stops collecting a paycheck. It’s not like we decided to backpack through Europe and focus only on ourselves. Most of us took greater responsibilities than we ever have professionally once we became mothers. I’ve worked with some of the most influential moms within male-dominated, cutthroat industries and they told me that being a mom is the harder job. Didn’t you see that viral commercial? Us moms didn’t need this video to know what we do is tough. So here’s the new perspective that I want you to have while interviewing a mother: think about her “time off” as the time when she focused on mitigating costs—emotional, physical, spiritual, as well as monetary.
Many moms leave their careers because they believe that the costs of not being there for their children and/or family would outweigh continuing on that corporate ladder. They are thinking beyond the fact that childcare is astronomical and it’s not worth it for them to stay employed if they have two-plus children. Instead, what it takes to compel a professional to step off the corporate ladder involves much more anticipated costs. So when you ask an interviewee who is a mom why she took “time off,” do so with the background that during that year she was focusing on traditional as well as untraditional costs.
2. Evaluate her daily accomplishments as a mother against the same measurements that the most senior executives of the most profitable organizations in the world are held against—they can take it since they birthed you.
Chances are, you are going to have to spearhead this new way of evaluating a mother’s accomplishments within your organizations, so you really have to believe that there are both tangible as well as intangible values in what a mother does. Admittedly, it’s 75% the role of an interviewee to link her actions to her immediate as well as longer-term results. However, make the jump 25% of the way. Use the same measuring sticks that you hold your highest potentials to.
Consider what that interviewee has done in terms of performance goals as well as leadership goals. For example, if a mother during her time off stretched her allocated event budget by 20% YOY with a focus on identifying vendors for seven magical Etsy and Pinterest-inspired birthdays on shoestring budgets, then make the leap that she can accomplish a performance goal of squeezing the waste out of any corporate budget using the same negotiation skills. Alternatively, if she mediated 135-plus disputes involving reluctant and difficult personalities as a parent to middle-aged children, then give her the credit that she can similarly coach and mediate adults with whom she can reason—usually.
3. Don’t assume a mother wants to take a step back or that her skills are stale—children grow rapidly and have different needs; the only way mothers survive is by adjusting to new situations on the spot or by becoming “Google ninjas” to close knowledge gaps.
Corporate America is trying to facilitate the reentry of mothers into the workforce by offering returnships, such as JPMorgan Chase is doing. I commend those efforts. However, I don’t commend organizations that think they are doing moms a favor by offering career-oriented mothers jobs that are less demanding than their original career paths would have been had they never left. That is a sign that the organization does not consider a mother’s “time off” as a career-enhancing experience.
Again, I want you three to think about a mother’s time being a mother as career-building rather than career-destroying. See a mother’s experiences outside of your industry as time spent having to learn about a new target audience. Consider her new role as a mother as an expression of her ability to be the Swiss Army knife that any organization needs to win in the most competitive industries where each employee has to bring their best to the table and do whatever it takes (beyond their job description) to get ahead of the competition. Listen to her stories of when she had to exhibit one of the greatest skills that any mom possesses, her ability to be resourceful. Then compare her stories with those of other interviewees who have exercised the same skills (what opportunities are you considering those people for?) and I want you to consider mothers for the same roles within the same human resources–designed job bands… not those below.
And as far as a mother’s skills being dull, that’s no excuse not to hire a mother… mothers are Google ninjas. There’s YouTube today. I can’t even imagine what there will be tomorrow. As a primary caregiver, mothers have to constantly go from novice to expert status on a myriad of complex issues such as healthcare and technology. Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of time to raise our IQ and we need to figure things out while our child is screaming in pain. Imagine how easy it would be for a mom to figure out what budding social media channel to leverage to reach teens in Indonesia without having to search with a crier in tow?
4. Don’t base a reentering mom’s salary expectations upon her pre-mom base salary.
If I haven’t received a paycheck in 10 years yet I’ve been mothering instead, think about this calculation. While the value of my contributions to my family and society is $118,905, according to Salary.com, instead think about what you would pay a professional with X years of experience as a general manager in addition to her pre-mom time working in corporate America. Although a mother may not have the multiple educational degrees to practice medicine, law, nutrition, business or IT, she does bring the hands-on experiences to justify credit for her “time off.” Reward her rather than ignoring that time away and penalizing her with an 18% wage dip. Use your analytical thinking to inform your compensation package for a mother in the same way that you evaluate the appropriate compensation for untraditional experienced employees such as military veterans (even if imperfectly).
Don’t be part of the problem. I hope I raised you better than that. The rubber hits the ground right here. Are you willing to pay a mother for the experience she garnered in an office as well as at home? If you expect a working professional to bring the best of herself to any assignment, then you’ll need to compensate her for those skills and experiences.
My shorthand for justifying salary increases for my clients has traditionally included helping them think about the revenue they have brought into a firm, the costs saved, or the drastic organizational changes that they spearheaded. Similarly, with those three ideas, review her motherly experiences to ascertain her prospective financial contributions. For example, if a mom took ownership for her child’s education by selecting the educational system, helping with homework, driving her to visit colleges and reading scholarship applications, give that mom credit for saving her household both the cost of a tutor as well as any grants her children have earned. If you are so impressed by an executive penning a multimillion dollar deal on a proven product/service and you are willing to pay him more for that experience, then do so when you hear about a mom who did the same with fewer resources, no already written sales enablement tools and an unproven brand (at least on the world’s stage).
Now, I may be asking for a bit too much from you three boys, but then again, didn’t you ask for a lot from me? Rather than give YOU something that dies within a year, I hope to have given you a rational way of making business-building decisions as you evaluate the talent you’ll need to help you bring your unique legacies to fruition. In turn, what I am asking you to do is to keep bringing mine to light. It begins with bringing a mother’s time being a mom to your interview conversations. While it may seem too personal, I have included a sample general-mother résumé rewritten as a professional document to help you rethink the way moms have contributed to their organizations as well as driven long-lasting change during their employment gaps.
Remember: don’t hold her to lower standards than any other interviewee. Instead, try to compare apples-to-apples, which I believe is not what is happening very often today.