Would you be more likely to hire a woman who’d taken a year-long maternity leave or one who was absent for just a month? Managers faced with that decision preferred the candidate who’d taken less time off, a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found. And that was true for female as well as male managers.
I suspect that this isn’t news to any mom who has tried to make her way back into the workforce after spending months or years ushering a newborn into babyhood. Finding some semblance of balance between paid work and motherhood is a long-running challenge for nearly everyone.Can you take some more disheartening “women and work” news? Research has found that women “frequently underestimate the time, money and effort it takes to raise children and have a career at the same time, leading many to invest in their skills and then reluctantly leave the workforce when the true cost of becoming a working mother become clear,” the Wall Street Journal recently reported.
Although women earn 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in the U.S. and more than half of advanced degrees, as many as 18 percent of American women are homemakers by age 30. A study found that just 2 percent of 18-year-old women anticipate being a stay-at-home mom, “suggesting that many expected to combine work and motherhood and then reversed course,” the Journal noted.
If you’re weighing whether to leave work to focus on child raising, you know that this complex decision has many financial implications. They include how your family will fare in this costly region on a single income and how your absence from the workforce will affect your long-term career history and financial well-being.
When a family opts to rely on a single earner, the non-employed parent must stay knowledgeable about the family’s finances. I know there’s a temptation to go on autopilot, especially when you’re pressed for time and short on energy (which is the norm for parents who are caretakers of infants and toddlers). But fiscal decisions should be made by both parties, so schedule monthly or quarterly reviews together.
Also, explore buying disability and life insurance for the parent who isn’t employed. If that person were no longer able to care for the children, the spouse or partner would need to hire a small army—driver, cook, childcare professional, housekeeper, shopper and more—to fill the gaps. Insurance can help cover those expenses.
It’s not pleasant to do this, but before leaving the workforce, sit with an uncomfortable thought: What would happen if you gave up your career and your marriage ended in divorce? How would you support yourself? Relying solely on a partner’s income makes you more vulnerable in a divorce, consider this factor.
Please don’t think I’m discouraging women or men from being stay-at-home parents! I was one myself for three years, and I’m grateful I could be with my three children when they were small and to return to meaningful work as they became more independent.
I also want to share some encouraging news from that first study about maternity leaves. The researchers found a successful strategy for eliminating bias against a mother who’s taken a longer leave: A letter of recommendation from her former boss put the candidate on even footing with one who’d taken a shorter leave.
And women on longer maternity leaves who participated in “keep in touch” programs that helped them stay current with assignments, clients and colleagues weren’t perceived to have lost their edge. The conclusion here: If you’re going to keep one foot in the playpen, keep the other in the office.
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