The pandemic hit working mothers hard. When juggling work, child care, and home schooling became too much, it was mothers who disproportionately left the workforce in droves to shoulder the burden. In fact, almost 1-in-2 (45%) mothers of school-age children were not actively working last April*. But, as we get back to some form of normality (or at least a lull in this neverending pandemic) women are getting back to work. These women now have a gap on their resumes; some have a two-year gap. Will this make it difficult for them to return to the workforce? As I thought about all I learned during the 14-month gap I took after my first child, I would say: absolutely not. With March being Women’s History Month and the return to a new (kind of) normal, I think it’s prime time to shed some light on this topic and help break the bias of the dreaded Mom Resume Gap.
I spoke to two colleagues who are part of the Mom’s Support Group community here at RingCentral and have taken significant career breaks to raise their families. I uncovered a multitude of reasons why these resume “gaps” actually make them a huge asset to any organization. Together, we explored four of the core skills they’ve developed: a newfound drive and determination, uber efficiency, empathy and natural leadership skills.
If you’re a recruiter, pay attention: you’re going to want to fill your teams with mothers returning to the workforce right now!
Unmatched drive and determination to succeed
“When a mom is ready to come back to the workforce, they are hungry” says Bergundi Silva, Professional Services Deployment Specialist at RingCentral and a double blue star mom. Silva took a 13 year break from the workforce to raise her five children and is finishing her PHd while working full time. “Moms are going to network a lot better because they miss talking to adults,” she explains. Rearing kids can be full on at times, but even when your day is bursting at the seams with activities, you can sometimes realize the day passed without an adult conversation. It’s all been about the kids. “Women are ready to be number one” recognizes Silva, this is what gives them a drive to succeed and the determination to make a go of it for themselves.
Jessica Flannery, Strategic Partner Manager in Channel Sales, agrees “I’m a single mom. That gives me huge motivation. I have to succeed, not just for myself but to cover all of my outgoings.” Flannery left the workforce for three years to look after her two young children, and she came back with a kind of determination she hadn’t experienced before; “I had a different lens and I called directly to ask for the job I wanted. I had so much drive as people didn’t expect me to be successful because I was new, a mom and had 3 years off.”
Mothers coming back to the workforce hold themselves to a high standard, after all if they’re going to spend more time away from their children than with them – they better make it worth it! This brings me to my next realization –, working mothers with career breaks have learned to be uber efficient, because time is literally money.
Uber-efficiency isn’t a nice to have — for moms, it’s a necessity
When your home task list amps up with the addition of a small person, you find yourself having to plan ahead and put time on the calendar just to have a bath or read a book (vital for your sanity). The same efficiency and planning is needed when you add a full-time job back in the mix.
“I learned to go about things in a more efficient way”, says Silva, who not only raised five kids, but ran their little leagues and volleyball teams.“I needed to work smarter, not harder.”
Flannery had the same feelings: “I don’t waste time. I’m so efficient, because you have to be on the clock. I’m so much more schedule-driven now, whereas before I was very reactive.”
By completing projects methodically, while maintaining the ability to switch gears and dive into an urgent task without complaint, working mothers spend fewer hours at work while still managing to exceed expectations. An acute awareness of what’s important versus what can wait, as well as the ability to set firm boundaries with colleagues and superiors, simply comes a lot more naturally. Small wonder—moms have had plenty of practice.
Good time management doesn’t come easily. But that’s one of the superpowers granted by motherhood. It’s as if our instincts have helped us develop the art of efficient timekeeping, and the ability to do it all with an eerie sense of calm (Where was that before?). These qualities come back to the workforce when moms do. Any recruiters out there who would turn down someone with this powerful skill, please think again.
Empathy and active listening skills? Check.
When you find yourself singing along to the twenty-fifth rendition of “Old McDonald” or dealing with the 5th boo boo in a row on any given morning, your capacity for empathy and listening without losing your cool naturally expands.
As Silva puts it, Working mothers are going to have a little more compassion, a little more empathy. They create a more nurturing environment than you might ordinarily find in the typical, cold corporate environment.
If you’re spending your hours at home doing your best to remain calm and playing the role of active listener or participant in every experience, it’s natural to bring some of that into your work life. Not only do some moms feel like they are now more empathetic bosses and coworkers, they also report a more genuine interest in their colleagues’ and customers’ family lives. They listen more, communicate better, and act methodically and mindfully.
Having worked her way up the ranks at a speed that would leave the Roadrunner in the dust, Silva attributes much of her success to this very skill; “I’m a team builder and all the younger employees respected me and came to me with their concerns. I had the life experience they didn’t have and they looked up to me for it.”
Flannery feels like being a mom and staying at home with her kids really helped her access a part of herself that had been dormant prior to her break. “I had a reputation for being too brash before I had my kids. Being a mother gave me a completely different way of looking at things. I become kinder and more thoughtful.” She says a lot of this is down to wanting to be a better role model for her children. “As I say to my kids, if you’re the winner, don’t gloat and if you lose, don’t hang your head. It makes me a better team player”.
The skills learned during resume gaps don’t stop at the team level., Working mothers who’ve taken pause to care for their children have the potential to be great leaders too.
Natural, authentic leadership skills
We often hear of all the different roles a woman takes on as a mother: nurse, chef, chauffeur, psychologist, administrator, activity coordinator, cleaner…. the list goes on. When it comes down to it “if you can run a household, you can pretty much do anything” as Silva puts it. “Running a household 24/7 makes a mother an automatic CEO, CFO, CIO and so many other titles. Women are the foundation of our society, and mothers keep it going.”
Moms returning to work after a long stint off don’t just make great leaders because they can juggle everything so well, they make great leaders because they bring the best of themselves to work and they want to set a good example. Yes, they’ve honed the art of juggling multiple priorities simultaneously and dealing with everything that life throws at them, all while keeping every little human and thing in their household chugging along. But they do this all with patience, empathy, and compassion, inspiring their children as they look on. As Flannery attests, “I want to inspire my kids to be their best selves. Motherhood has pushed me to be the best I can be”.
It’s worth noting that for these skills to flourish, recruiters need to remember that the right work environment is key. “Working for a company that cares for its people has made all the difference” says Silva. When you’re juggling work and rearing children, having a manager that’s flexible and understands that life happens helps mothers, and fathers, feel trusted and empowered to do their job successfully. As Flannery adds: “I never used to talk about my kids before at work, but now I feel like I can share them with my team and the Mom’s Support Group here at RingCentral. I can be my full self and I still hit my numbers!”
So if you’re a recruiter or hiring manager, do yourself a favor and consider candidates with resume gaps, especially mothers looking to re-enter the corporate world. The life experience and leadership skills that moms build during those career break years are second to none. I recently read a quote from the head of HR for a large tech company that reinforced this: “If you want to get sh*t done, hire a woman. If you want to get EVERYTHING done, hire a mother.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Originally published Mar 31, 2022, updated Dec 30, 2022