A new study finds that employers prefer workers who’d been laid off to stay-at-home parents looking to re-enter the workforce
Taking time off to raise a kid can be risky for your career.
That’s according to a study that alleges employers are biased against parents seeking to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to look after their kids, even when they’re pegged against competitors who’ve been out of work for a similar period after being laid off. The research was carried out by Kate Weisshaar, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who sent out 3,375 fictitious resumes to a variety of jobs in 50 American cities.
Weisshaar couched the resumes, sent in both masculine and feminine names, so that human resource recruiters would take them for having similar skill sets and experience levels. She broadly divided them into three categories: currently employed individuals looking for a new gig, people who’d been laid off for 18 months and were still looking for work, and stay-at-home parents who’d been out of the office for a year and a half. She then tracked which CVs recruiters responded positively to.
Unsurprisingly, already-employed workers were the likeliest to receive callbacks from recruiters, with 14.6% of fathers and 15.3% of mothers in this category getting positive responses. The more surprising finding was that stay-at-home parents were about half as likely to get a callback than their counterparts who’d been let go. Indeed, 9.7% of laid-off women were contacted with an encouraging response, versus just 4.9% of stay-at-home moms. The ratio was 8.8 to 5.4 for the men.
“I found that people viewed both unemployed applicants and stay-at-home applicants as less capable than continuously employed applicants, perhaps thinking their skills had become rustier while they were not working,” Weisshaar wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “These concerns might be triggered because stay-at-home parents violate ubiquitous expectations that employees should dedicate themselves completely to work and prioritize it over other areas of life.”
But why the divergence between those who took time off to look after their kid and those who’d been made redundant by past employers? Based off a survey she conducted, Weisshaar thinks that recruiters tend to see the former as less deserving as a job than the latter, as well as less committed because they spent time raising a family. Interestingly, men were more penalized than women when they decided to take time off to rear kids. “This could be because fathers face expectations to provide for their families and respondents viewed stay-at-home fathers negatively for not adhering to these expectation,” the academic writes.
Egged on by government policies and a low unemployment rate that has led to worker shortages in some fields, Corporate America has taken a much more nurturing approach in recent years. But Weisshar’s work suggests there’s still some way to go.
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