How to Reenter the Workforce: Moms Going Back to Work
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Reentering the workforce after a long absence can be particularly difficult for women who took time off for motherhood. The longstanding challenges that hinder women in the workforce even before they have children are augmented with new issues revolving around getting hired after a long work gap. Because of this, mothers seeking a return to work need to build a solid strategy to overcome these unique roadblocks and get back to work with full confidence.
To learn more about how to reenter the workforce, check out the infographic below, created by Maryville University’s online Master of Business Administration program.
The State of the Workforce for Women and Mothers
A significant gap between women and men in the workforce exists in many areas — something that has become clearer during the pandemic. For women reentering the workforce after taking time away due to motherhood, these gaps can be further amplified.
Women vs. Men in the Workplace
In 2019, the labor force participation rate for women was 57.4%, compared with 69.2% for men, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While the rate for men with children under 18 hovered between 92.2% and 95.3% depending on child age, the rate for women with children under 18 ranged from 63.8% and 77%.
While 54% of women describe themselves as “very ambitious” and 35% as “somewhat ambitious” about their careers, according to CNBC, there is still an advancement gap at work. According to a McKinsey study, for every 100 men promoted to first-level manager by the end of 2020, just 86 women were promoted. Furthermore, PayScale data shows that 30% of women ages 30-44 become supervisors or managers compared with 36% of men, and 7% of women attain executive-level status during their careers compared with 12% of men.
A pay gap is also in play. In 2021, men’s median annual salary was roughly 18% higher than women’s. Additionally, women earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men — and 98 cents for every dollar earned by men with the same job and qualifications.
The Motherhood Penalty
Motherhood penalty is a term used to describe the overt and subtle workforce detriments impacting working mothers. Data from the National Women’s Law Center demonstrates this penalty: Mothers are paid 75 cents for every dollar earned by fathers, and mothers typically lose $15,300 per year due to the wage gap. These discrepancies are particularly significant among Black, Native American, and Latina mothers. Additionally, the high cost of child care further puts mothers at a disadvantage, particularly among low-wage earners.
The Pandemic’s Effect on Working Women
The coronavirus pandemic was a major disruptive force for women workers. In 2021, labor force participation among women hit a 33-year low, according to CNBC. Potential causes for this exodus included jobs traditionally held by women being disproportionately impacted by shutdowns and greater family demands being placed on women due to child care and school closures. Additionally, career progression discrepancies impacted women with children at home even in remote work situations during the pandemic.
The Challenges of Returning to Work
Mothers attempting to reenter the workforce after an extended leave face a wide range of professional and personal obstacles. Understanding these roadblocks and their impact can be crucial to enabling mothers to return to work and lend their perspective and expertise in a wide range of industries.
Professional and Personal Roadblocks
Some of the obstacles obstructing women trying to return to work are professionally generated. These hurdles include a lack of flexibility for caregiving and accommodations, employment bias against mothers, and amplifications of existing women’s issues in work environments, such as pay.
Other issues prohibiting women in this situation are personal in nature. These include the need for child care and working mom guilt.
Challenges Accelerated by COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic added more challenges for women trying to return to work. A prime example of this concerns the increased need for flexibility due to increased child care needs. While most employers feel they are aware of this increased need, many are struggling to invest in meeting it. Other pandemic-fueled challenges include remote learning due to schools shutting down in-person instruction and handling child care duties in addition to job responsibilities due to work-from-home orders and school and/or day care closures.
Ready to Return: Tips to Reenter the Workforce
Moms seeking a return to work should develop a strategy that emphasizes their knowledge and skills. They should also embrace the concept of the working mom.
Preparing for the Return
Women ready to return to work should develop a strategy for reentry. This starts with defining a desired career path, which can include number of hours, future ambitions, and financial goals. They should also build a network by being active on parenting and professional social sites, reaching out to former colleagues, and making new connections through professional associations and alumni networks. Additionally, they should consider a return to school to refresh skills. Finally, they should consider entrepreneurship if they have an idea or a product that can solve a problem.
Closing the Gap
Moms can deploy several tactics to help ensure they gain every advantage possible in reentering the workforce. For example, they can build a skills-based resume that highlights core competencies. They should also utilize impressive references and highlight volunteer work, training, and relevant licensing renewals. Women can also practice interviewing skills and learn to talk up gap time and transferable skills.
Overcoming Mom Guilt
Beating mom guilt can be tough — but it is possible. To overcome the concept, women can set personalized rules for motherhood, refrain from self-judgment, and reframe personal language. Additionally, they can build a system of reminders and to-do lists to remain organized. Finally, they can find quiet time to relax and engage in deep breathing exercises.
Coming Back Strong
Reentering the workforce as a mom poses a unique set of challenges, but mothers can clear these hurdles by taking an approach that emphasizes knowledge, skills, and self-worth. This approach can help make it easier to rejoin the workforce and push toward a greater sense of workplace balance and equality.
Bizwomen, “Parents Split on How Remote Learning Has Affected Families”
CNBC, “Ambition Is Not the Problem; Women Want the Top Jobs — They Just Don’t Get Them”
CNBC, “Women’s Labor Force Participation Rate Hit a 33-Year Low in January, According to New Analysis”
Gallup, “How Have U.S. Working Women Fared During the Pandemic?”
Houston Chronicle, “Resume Writing Tips for Mothers Returning to Work”
Indeed, “Tips for Reentering the Workforce After Being a Stay-at-Home Parent”
KFF, “Women, Work, and Family During COVID-19: Findings from the KFF Women’s Health Survey”
Maryville University, “Moms Going Back to School: Path to Earning Your Degree”
Maryville University, “Tips for Aspiring Mompreneurs”
McKinsey & Company, “Women in the Workplace 2021”
National Women’s Law Center, “Even Before This Disastrous Year for Mothers, They Were Still Only Paid 75 Cents for Every Dollar Paid for Fathers”
NBC News, “Working Moms Face Employment Bias. Combat It Head-On by Putting ‘Mother’ on Your Resume”
PayScale, “The State of the Gender Pay Gap in 2021”
PEW Research Center, “A Rising Share of Working Parents in the U.S. Say It’s Been Difficult to Handle Child Care During the Pandemic”
Qualtrics, “Not in the Same Boat: Career Progression in the Pandemic”
TLNT, “Ending the Motherhood Penalty”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Women in the Labor Force: A Databook”
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, “COVID-19 Impact on Childcare”