What About Mom?

Note to Hiring Managers in Corporate America: the time is past due to think differently about moms

By: Karen Casey, GattiHR

Dear Corporate America,

After reading Sue Shellenbarger’s last “Work & Family” column for The Journal in early January and gleaning insights from my many meetings with job seekers and senior leaders, I was compelled to put on two of the many hats I wear: one as a working mom and the other in my role as an executive search leader and HR consultant – to compel Corporate America to do more for working moms and especially for moms returning to the workforce.

Companies across industries throughout the US have many more jobs available than candidates to fill them. In speaking with many executives, I come to learn that their biggest fear is not the next new product or service but rather the people who are going to develop them; not the next client, but who is going to service that client; not the next store but who is going to lead that store. The list goes on. I’m writing to the new, yet old world of Corporate America that has claimed to adjust to the new work world and the newly established demands of Millennials and the up and coming Gen Zs.

However, most of what I have seen is much of the same but with more window dressing.

During the course of a long career as a human resources and talent acquisition leader, and as a career coach, I have spoken and/or met with hundreds of women who desperately want to return to the work world after taking leave to raise children or care for elderly parents (and yes, I’m talking mostly about moms since over 80% of stay-at-home-parents are women). While many moms seeking a return to the workplace may have lost some (or a lot in some cases) of their technical skills, the competencies, resilience and grit they have developed not only as a once full-time corporate employee but in their time at home as CEO of “X” Family far outweighs the technical skills lost. The cost to retrain these enthusiastic employees pales in comparison to the tangible and intangible costs an organization suffers from a long-term unfilled position because the “right person” has not come along.

The January 2020 jobs report has the US unemployment rate at 3.6%, remaining as one of the lowest in 50 years. And according to the recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report on new job creation, there are more jobs than there are people to fill them: 6.8 million job openings and only 5.1 million active job seekers. Further exacerbating the recruitment dilemma is more people are staying put and not relocating for new opportunities. It is no secret top talent is hard to find and even harder to retain. The time for Corporate America to deploy real programs that attract and retain the under-employed population of “Mom” is now.

Why are many organizations willing to take a chance on a newly minted college graduate or even a candidate with only one-to-three years of experience but shies away from a 40-something woman who has many years of experience? In addition to work experience, she has developed workplace behaviors and soft skills that may be a perfect match for the job. Yes, she may require a part-time position at the start to balance her responsibilities as a mom and “head of household.” And many instances may require some retraining as well. She may in fact be willing to return full-time. But few will consider her because of the hiatus she took to raise her children and take on the family leadership role for a period. I have seen this time and time again.

The average tenure of the US employee between the ages of 25 and 34 is 2.8 years. Meanwhile the average tenure of employees over the age 55 is 10 years (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Millennials and Gen Zs have rocked corporate America, and I applaud their efforts of changing for the better the culture and policies of many organizations. They are truly setting the tone for the future, including the need for flexibility in the workplace.  There’s a place for all generations and work schedules. Yet the thought of a part-time employee brings so much angst. Why? I have heard it before: “I tried that once and it didn’t work out.” Umm…. How many times have managers made a full-time hire, and it didn’t work out, but they keep hiring the same old way?

Having been on the hiring end for many years, and even in a part-time role attempting to return full-time after becoming a mom several years back, I know the code words for “why not?” All too many times the feedback is the same – Runway, work ethic, adaptability, flexibility, culture fit, lacking relevant technical skills, blah, blah, blah. Let me share some key behaviors and skill sets of these women too many organizations are missing out on:

  • They raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for their schools, leveraging fundraising skills as well as any senior development officer.
  • They run events for 500 people with minimal budgets and lead implementation teams that are 100% volunteer based.
  • They run marketing campaigns with zero dollars that generate more hits to their social media pages than many multi-million-dollar organizations with large budgets.
  • They lead their children through the nastiness of middle school drama like that of a highly skilled negotiator and a full-time employee relations team.
  • They direct project plans and show flows; build communication strategies and websites, lead educational programs and grant writing; manage budgets and P&L statements, and the list goes on and on.
  • They can do. And they will do, if you just give them a chance

They’re lawyers, accountants, communication specialists, coders, project managers, brand managers, engineers, human resources leaders and chemists; they have the competencies and key behaviors so many companies are seeking; they can multi-task better than an octopus; they’re highly educated women – the people you need more of; and most likely they need flexibility. There, I said it, flexibility. The other “f word,” which usually brings their potential candidacy to a halt, even if they made it past the hurdle of explaining their career break.

I applaud organizations who are doing just that, taking a chance on returning moms. But from what I see, these organizations are still in the minority.

Corporate America, if you need some strong, educated, talented women, I know where you can find them. Please open your eyes and think out of the box for the next generation of worker. Her name is “Mom” and she’s just around the corner.

Karen Casey

Vice President, Regional Practice Leader

Karen brings over 20 years of global talent management and human resources leadership with Fortune 500 companies as a senior Human Resources leader across multiple industries. She has worked as an in-house practitioner and as a consultant with organizations such as The Gillette Company, Procter and Gamble, BJ’s Wholesale and Primark, Ltd. Karen served as a business partner to the leaders she supported who leveraged her HR skill set to drive business objectives and ultimately the people agenda. In addition to being a business partner to senior leadership teams in organizational alignment and transformations, Karen’s HR expertise includes talent acquisition strategy, design and implementation, executive recruitment, employment branding, leadership and career development, team building, strategic planning and facilitation and community partnerships.