Shifting The Parent Trap: New Research On Regaining Momentum Post-Leave

Maintaining career momentum after children requires strategies and awareness.

Maintaining career momentum after children requires strategies and awareness.

At a time when employees are fighting for paid parental leave for mothers and fathers, a new study spanning 40 years and tracking close to 5,000 women shows that some women who take time off their career paths to have children are penalized financially years down the road.

Knowing this and working to maintain your climb professionally can help curb the possible ill effects. But you need to know these roadblocks can be in place, as well as ways to maneuver around them. Take The Lead has also previously charted ways for many to come back after a hiatus.

Women who take time off work to have kids are penalized financially down the road #workingwomen

Gloria Feldt, Take The Lead co-founder and president, is insistent that parenthood belongs on a woman leader’s resume, not just something she needs to justify.

Yet, this new data reveals that many organizations may be lagging behind such forward thinking.

“Mothers who leave work to raise children often sacrifice more than the pay for their time off; when they come back their wages reflect lost raises, according to a new study by Paula England, Professor of Sociology at New York University,” according to the American Sociological Association.

“In the case of highly skilled white women with high wages, what is striking is that they have the highest penalties despite the fact that they have the most continuous work experience of any group of women, which, other things being equal, would reduce their penalties,” England writes. “Their high returns to experience and tenure mean that loss of every year of work caused by motherhood is much more costly for their future wages, even in proportionate terms, than it is for other groups of women.”

For women of color, “the penalties were lower as unlike the white women, the penalties for black women did not differ significantly by skill or wage.”

Not only is being able to pay the bills an issue for millions of American mothers following childbirth if there is no paid leave, but lacking childcare subsidies to affordable childcare is also a financial burden. Take The Lead recently examined the issue of paid leave, and also tackled the stereotypes of working moms.

“Advocates say paid family leave fills a crucial need in a country where 59 percent of mothers with infants are in the workforce and just 12 percent of workers in the private sector get paid leave through their employers. Studies show that when a parent can care for a child after birth or adoption, it results in improved health for both, writes Aaron C. Davis in Washington Post.

“The United States is the only industrialized nation without a national paid leave law of any kind; only a handful of states have paid leave laws,” Davis writes.

President elect Donald Trump has spoken of implementing mandatory paid parental leave of 6 weeks in the U.S., but has given no specifics on how that would happen.

In Washington, D.C., a proposal was introduced in city council to offer employees in DC 11 weeks of paid family leave and up to 90 percent of pay. “The D.C. plan would put the cost directly onto employers and would be the first in the country to require businesses to fully fund employees’ family leave benefit, much the way European governments use broad-based taxes to fund parental leave for up to a year,” Davis writes.

“Just 13 percent of private sector employees and 6 percent of low-wage workers benefit from paid family leave, according to Paid Leave for the United States (PL+US), a nonprofit that promotes the adoption of paid leave policies. More than 100 million Americans have no access to paid leave, and one in four mothers goes back to work just 10 days after giving birth, according to the report,” writes Alicia Adamczyk in Money.

Returning to work after a hiatus to have a child also affects a woman’s career, but many suggest strategies to keep a career from stalling. After having a child, so many questions and uncertainties can hinder a working woman.

After having a child, so many questions and uncertainties can hinder a working woman #equality

And earlier studies show that both men and women are ambivalent about parents returning to work after having children.

“Women are forced to ask: Will I return to the same job in the next two or twelve months? Will I be able to continue my career climb after taking time off to nurture my new family? Will I make the jump to an entirely new field? Can my partner and I sustain enough income during this time? Will I be able to earn as much, if not more, than I used to? Will I be forced to make more difficult choices between my kids and work?” writes Kavi Guppta in Forbes.

According to Guppta, remote work can solve t he immediate issue of having a gap in employment and can be done in spare moments between childcare duties. Guppta suggests:

  • “Freelance or project based contracts for a client or multiple clients.

  • Assist an experienced remote worker or a virtual service agency on a subcontracting basis.

  • Apply for an advertised remote employee role available for a set number of weekly hours (for example, providing online customer support for 10 hours per week). This could be done for startups or established companies that are open to distributed workers.”

Working remotely from home can put you in position to sharpen other skills.

“The virtual nature of remote work forces you to improve or enhance your ability to stay organized; to communicate well; and to navigate unique process requirements that may not exist within an office environment,” Gupta writes. “In addition, you’ll get a feel for how remote work has improved your autonomy or independence as a worker, while also enhancing your team building abilities. These skills are necessary to succeed as a remote worker, and any amount of practice or in-the-field experience will help to hone your abilities.”

Yes, remote work is a fill in the gap solution for so many, and a boon to entrepreneurs who m ay use this time to dabble in a new career or launch an idea.

Choosing not to return to work after children is not an option for millions, but knowing ahead of time that you may be penalized in advancement and wages is also a negative.

“For many people, going back to work after having children isn’t an option; it’s a necessity. In large metropolitan areas, especially, where the cost of living can be astronomical (in spite of higher wages), many couples don’t have the luxury of choosing to have one parent stay at home while the other works to pay the bills. But with that said, there are actually plenty who can’t imagine a life without a career,” writes Stacey Lastoe in  The Muse.

From dentists to lawyers to writers and nurses, Lastoe writes that working mothers all face conflicts of ambition and parenting, advancement and life balance.

“Because at the end of the day, many of us have—or will have to—go back after starting a family for financial reasons. And if that’s the case, why not be realistic about the situation and strive to make all organizations places that understand what it means to be a working parent in 2016.”

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon