Does motherhood belong on a resume?
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Many have advocated that motherhood is a legitimate job that builds employable skills. Does the title belong on mums' CVs?

Mums multi-task. They plan. They research, organise, negotiate, manage time and lead.

Although mothers’ juggling hasn’t ever been a secret, their role has, perhaps, never been more obvious than during the pandemic. As schools transitioned to remote classrooms, and women took on more of both the physical and mental load of home life than before, the skills required to keep the trains on the tracks have been on full display.

As a result, the question increasingly floating to the surface is whether or not these skills have a place on mothers’ CVs.

There’s long been a push to recognise motherhood as a legitimate job that trains workers in legitimate skills, valuable to employers. And some voices are getting louder. One of the newest leaders is HeyMama, a US-based community for working mums, who’ve launched a campaign called Motherhood on the Resume. It’s quite literal, says Katya Libin, HeyMama’s co-founder and CEO – the organisation is advocating for mothers to update their titles on LinkedIn, or even add the position on a resume, like any other ‘recognised’ job in, say, sales or engineering.

Whether motherhood ‘belongs’ on a resume is, of course, subjective. The question, instead, lies in whether mothers can reap tangible benefits for the addition of the title – or whether some systemically entrenched biases around mums could produce the opposite effect.

A rightful place on the CV? 

At its core, Libin says the HeyMama campaign is an effort to “tear down some of the cultural biases that exist against mothers in the workplace, and give women the tools to acknowledge what a training ground for leadership and growth motherhood is”. The pandemic has only exacerbated how important it is to recognise how much mothers actually do, she adds, which is why HeyMama has launched their campaign now.

Libin adds motherhood provides tangible professional skills she believes women can “tactically translate” to employers. Mums are better at listening, more diplomatic and “super-organised”, she says – and believes “this current workforce we’re in really does require such strong communication and interpersonal skills, and so I think seeing motherhood as an advantage instead of a career-killer is one of the top goals”.

Problem solving is among the skills that advocates say motherhood can foster  (Credit: Getty Images)

Problem solving is among the skills that advocates say motherhood can foster (Credit: Getty Images)

Advocates for the visibility of motherhood as a professional qualification agree that the role trains women in vital professional skills. “A lot of research shows that, indeed, mothers are actually more efficient, and mothers are better mentors. And when you get mothers to leadership… they are eventually more profitable,” says Lauren Smith Brody, founder of The Fifth Trimester, a US-based consultancy that helps businesses support and retain parents. She says her research shows that mums also know how to compress time between tasks, which leads to efficacy and strong time-management skills.

If employers are willing to recognise these skills, listing motherhood among workers’ professional qualifications could position them well.

Some major caveats

But although women may be willing to communicate their roles as mums, the work world may not yet be ready to listen.

There is already precedent that ‘extracurricular activities’ can influence the way an employer views a candidate – which especially manifests as a boost to men. “Stereotypically masculine activities are seen to be compatible with what is wanted in the workplace – hence the abundance of sporting metaphors in work and leadership parlance,” says Michelle Ryan, professor of social and organisational psychology at the University of Exeter. So, a role on the university rugby team can communicate collaboration and teamwork; or triathlon training might point to well-roundedness and grit.

Yet, while employers still view motherhood as an outside-of-work activity, women are not afforded the same latitude. In fact, they can be penalised.

Among the places this bias manifests is in the “motherhood penalty”. Studies have long shown that employers view mothers as less fit for employment and promotion than their non-parent counterparts. Additionally, research from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of public policy shows that employers judge mothers as 10% less competent than workers who don’t have children; and mothers are considered to be 12.1% less committed (whereas fathers enjoyed a 5% bounce). Along with disadvantaging women in terms of their career, this also affects their long-term earning potential. Mums are also offered lower baseline salaries than candidates without children – the Harvard research showed a 7.9% lower starting salary. (Penalties like this have driven many mothers to “secret parenting” – a full opposite to trumpeting motherhood on a CV.)

There are some overt assumptions that play into hiring managers’ decisions, and there’s nothing discreet about it – Ruhal Dooley

There is some hopeful news about the motherhood penalty, says Ryan: her research with colleagues Thekla Morgenroth and Anders L Sønderlund has shown that parents – especially mothers – are increasingly “stereotyped as having more agentic traits and abilities, such as being self-confident, organised, independent and decisive, which made them seen to be better suited as leaders”. But, she cautions, gender biases still persist.

And it’s possible the pandemic may even have entrenched these biases, driving professional acceptance of motherhood in the wrong direction. “The pandemic hit, and now we’re watching moms on Zoom with their four-year-old in the background or in their laps, and it’s reinvigorating… the motherhood penalty,” says Ruhal Dooley, HR Knowledge Advisor at US-based Society for Human Resource Management. “I don’t know that the momentum that has started a few years ago has kept pace after this pandemic.”

The hiring perspective

Of course, a disproportionate amount of power still lies in the hands – and opinions – of recruiters and HR departments.

There are upsides to this: Dooley says hiring managers who’ve seen what their own mothers are capable of, or who are parents themselves, may be influenced to view a mum more positively. They may even subsequently influence their colleagues to take on their views.

But subjectivity and ingrained biases persist – and, oftentimes, prevail.

“There are some overt assumptions that play into hiring managers’ decisions,” says Dooley, “and there’s nothing discreet about it.” Some hiring managers might pass over mothers because they assume they’ll need more time off, or take too much advantage of a flexible scheduling policy. And having women screening resumes or in positions with hiring power may not actually help mothers. “Women discriminate against women as much as men discriminate against women,” he adds.

Dooley says that, ultimately, context is everything in the eyes of a hiring manager, who just wants to know how a candidate can help them fill their vacant role. He stresses it’s vital to connect how the skills learned in motherhood make you a strong candidate for a job. “If a mom can show me on her resume how being a mom can make her a better, say, actuary, by all means, I think that would help her – even with the people with implicit mom biases.”

Experts say the visibility of motherhood during the pandemic may have set back progress on fixing the motherhood penalty (Credit: Getty Images)

Experts say the visibility of motherhood during the pandemic may have set back progress on fixing the motherhood penalty (Credit: Getty Images)

The inequality factor

Drawing attention to one’s motherhood carries risk for all women. But the potential drawbacks for some women are more dramatic than others.

This is particularly the case for women of colour, who already face hiring biases and inequalities that penalise them before even mentioning that they are parents. For instance, US Census data shows that, in 2019, black women were paid only 63% of what non-Hispanic white men were, and Latinas were compensated at only 55%. These wage gaps are far more significant than the earnings ratio for women overall, which is 82%, compared to the same group of men.

Plus, “when anything indicates that [black or Latina women] are moms, or their ethnicity or national origin suggests implicitly to hiring managers that they either are or will become moms, that number drags even lower”, says Dooley.

So, on top of the motherhood penalty, black women and Latinas could face a kind of “double penalty”, he adds. “There’s a perception that her ‘momness’ somehow will interfere with her ability to perform up to par and beyond.”

In many ways, the ability to advertise motherhood in a professional setting is a privilege, and a risk only some women can afford to take – such as white women, or women in households with two incomes. “Normalising motherhood is important, and will help change organisational expectations and culture,” says Ryan. “But it may also have an impact on individual women who choose to do this, as it may make salient stereotypes like a lack of commitment or ambition.”

To add or not to add?

What’s the answer, then? Do the positives outweigh the risks?

That depends on the candidate. For instance, although adding the title of ‘mum’ can feel empowering, it’s still risky, since women don’t know who is on the other end of the resume. As Dooley notes, implicit bias is a huge factor, and a recruiter’s own experience may inform not only how they view motherhood as a role, but also whether they think it’s professional to put the title on a resume at all.

If you were reading a room and that room is not welcoming to mothers, you have to ask yourself if you want to work in a place like that – Lauren Smith Brody

Mums need to understand both the upsides and the downsides – as well as read the room. The risk of penalisation may be greater at less progressive organisations or in male-dominated fields, where there may be less movement toward embracing motherhood as a signifier of skill, and more entrenched biases about mothers’ fitness to work. 

But taking the temperature of a potential employer also goes beyond a decision about how to present a resume: it’s also important as a broader signifier of a company’s culture around motherhood. “If you were reading a room and that room is not welcoming to mothers, you have to ask yourself if you want to work in a place like that,” says The Fifth Trimester’s Smith Brody. Subsequently, she adds, if enough mothers vote with their feet, this could help spur a larger cultural change, since studies show that companies don’t profit as much when talented women leave organisations (or don’t join at all). 

Still, “it’s going to take some renegade people who are pretty comfortable putting that mother in all caps, and some renegade managers who are going to advertise the fact that they did”, adds Smith Brody.

Dooley agrees. “The beginning of a movement of moms saying on their resumes, ‘hey, I’m a mom, give me extra consideration because of that’ – even if they’re right… those are going to be the ones that are sacrificing themselves.”

Right now, mothers need to understand that adding ‘mum’ to their CVs isn’t standard. It’s difficult to know if a growing number of “renegades” willing to “sacrifice themselves” can move the needle for women. Dooley agrees that as hiring managers hire mothers and see them excel, pointing out motherhood could be an advantage. For now, however, mothers must recognise that the movement remains grassroots –  and that adding motherhood on their resumes remains a risk until it mainstreams. 

However, if workers can achieve a shift in corporate attitude in the long term, and women applicants stop trying to present like men, the potential benefits – for both worker and employer – could be all around positive. Smith Brody is hopeful that the normalisation of motherhood is possible, and may move quickly. She believes the title of ‘mum’ is overall moving toward broader acceptance in workplaces, and employers are increasingly seeing it as an asset – something that’s “not just more socially acceptable, but more socially rewardable”.