An article in today’s New York Times, Recession Drives Women Back to the Work Force, highlights the increasing numbers of women driven to try to find employment after years out of the workforce caring for family.78% of the people who’ve lost jobs in the recession are men, and college-educated women with a spouse are bucking typical economic trends because the number of them in the workforce or looking for employment is increasing during the recession.
I count myself in a similar situation. My husband and I have both been self-employed for several years. It was our solution to the unexpected reality that we couldn’t find standard jobs that would allow us to share the family work and both keep our careers. But he’s in real estate so his business has been slow so we decided it was time for me to look for more stable employment. After being told I was overqualified for one position, and sending resumes into black holes online for several months, I was recently hired into a position with a foundation locally – a position for which 100 people applied.
One big challenge for mothers is that all the old assumptions are still out there. A friend told me recently that in a chat with several other mothers, one successful, college-educated woman described looking for positions in her field in vain. Finally she applied for a retail job and the supervisors looked down their nose at her because she’d been out of the workforce with young children for several years. Caring for family is seen as a black mark on a resume. In part because it’s still assumed that caring for family isn’t really “work” at all and that somehow anyone who does it loses brain cells when they do.
Another mother described finally applying to a grocery chain, offering up a standard school schedule, 8 am to 2 pm weekdays, only to be told in a condescending tone that her “little schedule” didn’t work. Workplaces still assume they can dictate that jobs are 50 hours a week, 50 weeks a year and along with the fact that schools run from 8 am to 2 pm, makes it awfully hard for mothers – talented, capable, hard-working women – to fit into the workplace.
So while mothers are trying to reenter, workplaces and the people in them still make us feel like square pegs trying to fit into a round hole. There are no simple fixes to this challenge, but here are a few tips for mothers to keep in mind.
1. The time to think about your employability is ALWAYS.
Use the recession as a wakeup call to invest in yourself. Mothers may think they can’t justify investing time and money in maintaining and building their employability unless they are already making money themselves. But they and their families can’t afford for them not to. Volunteer strategically, talk with a career coach, check out your professional organizations, stay up on technology and your field, think about who you get references from and get them at that moment.
2. As roles shift, be proactive about talking with your spouse about how the division of family work is handled and how everyone is responding to the changes.
Many families fall into a default mode about who does what at home, but when employed hours shift dramatically for one or the other, don’t wait for the issue to blow up before you talk. Get out a list of household management tasks, like the one on my website from Mothers & More under tools for Chapter 11 of my new book This is Not How I Thought It Would Be: Remodeling Motherhood to Get the Lives We Want Today. Go through the list together. Don’t underestimate the time and energy required for the family work. If you’re adding 25 hours of employment, even if you have 25 hours of childcare, when will all the other stuff you used to do in those 25 hours get done and by whom?
3. Always ask and employer for what you want and what is fair.
Mothers tend to undervalue their skills and feel so lucky to find a job that fits family that they often don’t ask for fair pay and benefits. In this down economy, mothers may feel even more pressure to just take what’s offered. Always negotiate! Men are four times more likely to negotiate. Probably because, according to the authors of Women Don’t Ask, men describe negotiating as being like “winning a ballgame” women describe it as like “going to the dentist.” Just like going to the dentist, asking is good for us in the long run. Do your research on compensation for that job and ask. Frances Cole Jones, author of The Wow Factor: The 33 Things You Must (and Must Not) Do to Guarantee Your Edge in Today’s Business World, recently told participants in her teleconference that she’s talked to tons of human resources folks and you won’t ever get turned down simply because you asked for too much money. (By the way, check out The Wow Lab at Frances’ site for great tips on preparing for job interviews and selling yourself.)