Returning to the Workforce? Don’t Hide the Fact That You Had Kids

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The motherhood penalty gets a new study.
The motherhood penalty gets a new study.Photo: Thomas M. Barwick

The commonly held belief in the working world is that when a woman leaves her post to have children, and stays out of the working world for longer than her measly allotted maternity leave (if she has any), coming back to work could actually put her at a disadvantage in terms of getting hired. The so-called “motherhood penalty” has long been a source of aggravation for women who have raised kids and want to reinitiate their careers. The common belief was that women must hide their parenting credentials when coming back after an extended break.

But a new study by researchers at Vanderbilt Law School found that women who don’t hide the fact that they had children, and who explain upfront the reason for the gap in their résumé, are actually more likely to be offered the job they’re seeking.

The study asked 3,000 people to simulate being in charge of the hiring of two similarly qualified candidates for a position. When the one candidate was upfront about why she’d been away from work for ten years — taking care of a child, divorce — that candidate was between 30 and 40 percent more likely to be offered the job than the candidate who concealed that information. There are some caveats and criticisms to the study, of course. A sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, Ofer Sharone, told the New York Times that the study doesn’t take into account that both candidates — whether they were forthcoming or not — would likely be screened out before the interview process because of discrimination against people who take time away from their careers.

But in the event that there is a chance to be forthcoming about one’s career gap, it is better than not to be honest about what one was doing during the years away, even if that means having to own up to being a mother. Whether this means women with children will be paid commensurate with their experience is another conversation. The salary-related motherhood penalty is still real, after all.