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: