Going Back to Work After Staying Home With Kids? Avoid the “Motherhood Penalty”

stay at home mom
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When I decided to leave my full-time job to become a stay-at-home mom to my boys, I did it with the intention of freelancing for the foreseeable future. With all the talk of the gender pay gap in the news lately, though, I worry that if I do decide to return to the corporate world, I’ll be penalized for my “time off” with the kids. And I have plenty of reason to be concerned.

“Many stay-at-home and part-time working mothers will eventually decide to return to the full-time workforce, and when they do they may encounter a ‘motherhood penalty’ that extends beyond the actual time out of the workforce,” explains The Simple Truth About the Gender Gap (2015), a report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) on the disparity of pay between men and women across their lifetimes.

Recent research found that “mothers were rated as less competent, less committed, less suitable for hire, promotion and management training, and deserving of lower salaries” — just because they had kids. And a recent Pew survey confirmed that taking time away from work or reducing work hours to care for children contributes to a woman’s decreased pay.

This motherhood penalty means women with children who’ve taken time out of the workforce are less likely to be hired and, once hired, are offered a lower salary than their childless female counterparts.

So what can a stay-at-home mom do to improve her chances of getting a job and being paid what she’s worth once she decides return to the office? Here are six ways you can keep your skills sharp and make your resume shine when you’re ready to go back to work.

1. Educate Yourself

Always wanted to learn a second language? Interested in improving your keyboarding skills? Need to expand your Photoshop knowledge? Now is the perfect time to update your skills or learn new ones. Take an online or continuing education course to refresh or improve your professional skills or add new ones to your repertoire.

I’ve recently been brushing up on my HTML and CSS skills for free at w3schools.com, and I attended a free workshop through my local Small Business Resource Center, where I learned strategies for growing my business. If you’re willing to do a little searching, there are plenty of places you can learn for cheap or free. And don’t forget, if you do have to pay for a course, that expense is tax deductible!

2. Attend a Conference

If funds allow, take advantage of professional conferences in your area — or use these strategies to get in for free. These events are perfect for learning about current trends in your field. In addition, you can network and make professional connections that could come in handy when you’re sending out resumes in the future.

My local writers’ association offers at least one conference a year, and I was lucky enough to go last fall. I enjoyed learning from successful writers, reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen since before my boys were born and making new connections with writers and agents who were interested in my work.

3. Volunteer

You may not be getting paid, but volunteer work is still experience that can minimize time gaps on your resume. A friend who is currently staying home with her daughter volunteers her time writing grant proposals for a nonprofit organization she supports.

Find opportunities to keep your skills fresh by volunteering for your children’s school, a local nonprofit or another organization.

4. Start Freelancing

If you were making money on the side before the kids were born, you’re ahead of the curve here. Keep that work going as much or as little as you can, and you’ll be able to use that experience when you negotiate with your new boss. If you didn’t have a side gig, don’t worry. You can put your skills to work in whatever way you choose and start a freelance business now.

Even very-part-time work will keep your resume up-to-date without huge gaps in work experience, and will show future employers that you stayed active in the workforce during your time away from the office.

In addition to writing grants, the friend I mentioned above decided to exercise her entrepreneurial muscles by starting a cleaning business. Now she tidies up homes on the weekends and when her schedule allows, making some extra money and gaining valuable experience running a business.

5. Brush Up On Negotiation Skills

Attend a workshop or read a book on negotiation so when you do return to the workforce, you have the skills you need to negotiate the salary and position you deserve.

Negotiation is something I struggle with, as women often do, so this tip is one I’m working at myself. I’ve been reading blogs and articles at websites like Inc, and I’ve got Ask For It on my to-read list.

6. Get Political

Write letters to legislators, start a blog or join organizations like the American Association of University Women (AAUW) or the League of Women Voters of the United States (LWV). It may not seem like much, but I’ve been signing petitions to improve standards for maternity leave and sending emails to my legislators encouraging them to support improvements to the Family and Medical Leave Act that would require paid maternity leave.

Getting involved in the politics behind the gender pay gap will not only keep you mentally and socially active, it will help you practice skills that could be useful in your work. The actions you take could influence employers and encourage legislation that will improve your work life when you return to the office.

Going back to a corporate job after being at home with your kids may seem daunting, but if you use these tips to keep your skills fresh and your resume up-to-date, you’ll be all set to negotiate your way into a top position — with excellent pay — when you’re ready!

Your Turn: Have you successfully transitioned from stay-at-home parent back to the workforce? Share your tips in the comments!

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Ami Spencer Youngs is a freelance writer and yoga teacher, raising her career alongside two boys under three. Learn more about her life and her writing at writingherlife.com or on Twitter at @writingherlife.

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