Compelling new research shows that parents looking to reenter the work force after taking a break to raise children…
face daunting barriers. According to a study in the American Sociological Review, where the researcher sent fictitious resumes to real job openings, you are less likely to land a job if you have taken a career break to raise children than if you had been fired.
Study author, Kate Weisshaar noted in a Harvard Business Review essay that, “stay-at-home parents were about half as likely to get a callback as unemployed parents and only one-third as likely as employed parents.”
The reason: Employers view stay-at-home parents as less reliable, less deserving, and less committed compared to unemployed parents.
In June 2016, our founder and CEO Rita Kakati Shah encountered this discrimination up close and personal. A former fast track finance and healthcare professional, she was attending a networking event in preparation for reentering the workforce following a three and a half year break. Rita confidently sported a name tag with the acronym SAHM (Stay-at-Home Mom). When a fellow networker asked her what it meant, Rita spelled it out. To her shock, the woman turned tail and walked away.
The networking event represented the first actionable step on her career reentry journey and Rita, who had arrived with high hopes, was unprepared for such a negative reaction. “I could have gone home and cried,” she says, but instead, instead asked the other woman why she had run off. She answered that because Rita hadn’t been working, she feared they would have nothing in common worthy of a conversation.
”I was flabbergasted,” says Rita. “Investment banking was nothing compared to what motherhood requires. Patience. Diverse skills in organization, leadership and the supreme negotiation savvy to take on anyone on the planet.”
But she quickly discovered that it didn’t matter how well you’d done in the past—whether you were the top performer in a group of traders, or responsible for the largest volume of sales closed. If you were a mom who took time off to raise kids or a member of the sandwich generation providing care to an aging parent, people only looked at your “gap,” not your credentials. “There’s a stigma attached to the fact you haven’t been earning a paid salary…and potential employers have the sense that you’ve been doing nothing,” says Rita.
Motherhood had not only filled her with joy, but the experience had also accelerated her personal growth. She felt uplifted and liberated and with much to offer a potential employer. However, her experience at this networking event set career reentry on a different path. And so the seeds for Uma were planted.
With a mission to bring talented women back into the workforce, Uma, named for the “Goddess of Go-Getting” as Rita calls her, provides networking events and educational sessions and works with companies to foster cultures inclusive of the mentoring and flexibility conducive to women sharing work and family responsibilities.
Now more than ever we are seeing an uptick in Uma Academy participants. Even if our Uma Fellows are not looking to return to work in the near term, it is imperative to keep their skills alive and documented. What we have suspected all along is now confirmed in the research.
The company also cultivates relationships with employers to curate job experiences suitable for returning professionals, or Uma Fellows. These are short-term fellowships, or Umaships—paid positions that allow a “soft reentry” to the workplace.
“While exploring going back to work with a smooth reentry is a benefit of an Umaship, it is not its sole purpose,” says Rita. “It’s as important that women feel empowered because they took the risk to resume their careers.”
“A confident mindset is imperative,” says Rita and references the Uma tagline: Be Bold. Be You. Be Uma.