How to Advocate for Parents in Your Hiring Pipeline

April 5th, 2018
Ross Coyle
Diversity & Inclusion,
Recruiting Teams

With a tight demand for labor, recruiting needs to expand out of traditional talent pools and find new sources of candidates. But even in a climate where recruiters are scrambling to find diverse talent, parents find themselves at a disadvantage. Federal law prohibits recruiters and interviewers from asking about applicant’s family and marital status, but that doesn’t prevent discrimination against parents who volunteer their family status. Here are a few things to remember when a candidate reveals they’re a parent.

By The Numbers

An American Sociological Association study conducted by Katherine Weisshaar published earlier this year found that parents who opted out of work to care for children faced significantly decreased interest from employers. Parents who opted out to raise a family were further penalized as recruiters found alternative talent sources. 43 percent of women take an average of two years off to start a family, but that doesn’t mean they’re looking to leave the workforce permanently. Men and women who leave the workforce to care for families experience discrimination from hiring managers and recruiters. Despite equal qualifications, studies show that candidates who left a prior job for parenthood are half as likely get interview callbacks as those that were laid off. Parents may be taking care of family responsibilities but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to maintain professional skills and connections. So why are companies avoiding this valuable talent source?

The Fear of Outdated Skills

There can be a misguided perception that parents who take time off to raise families are less focused and motivated to succeed in the business world. Organizations often worry that parents won’t be as dedicated to their company and will prioritize family over career. They also worry that parents who have been away from the industry won’t be as up to date in skills and experience as their long term colleagues. Many companies look for absolute commitment from their workforce. These Ideal Worker Norms, as clarified in Weisshaar’s study, include constant availability, the willingness to work long hours, dedication to the company, and prioritization of work above other life demands. If you’re carrying this mindset as a recruiter, you simply won’t be competitive in the 2018 labor market. Parents are still building their skills, and top organizations are working to get their talents and experience on board — even if they don’t fit into the typical office schedule.

Parenting Builds Parallel Skills

Parents not only have years of industry knowledge from their work experience, but they have developed new skills that come from managing a household and raising children. If an analyst takes time away from practice, they don’t lose their insight or ability to recognize data trends. They might even be more organized and better equipped having had to juggle the demands of family life. These are just a few ways that parent’s skills can translate over to the corporate world:

  • Problem solving
  • Interpersonal and soft skills
  • Time management

Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of on-ramping company iRelaunch, says that the difference in skills is superficial and easily remedied. “I argue that it’s a temporary condition,” she says. “It’s just a matter of updating yourself, and once you learn it, you’re caught up and you’re using these technologies just like everyone else.”

Attract Them with Flexibility and Purpose

Companies and organizations like AppNexus, Medallia, Goldman-Sachs, and SaraLee realize that they need to address the influx of mid career professionals re-entering the workforce. They now host what are called “returnships” that on-ramp professionals back into the workspace so they can pick up where they left off. Other startups and services such as Inkwell and iRelaunch specialize in recruiting parents taking family leave who still want to maintain their professional skills. You can boost a parent's interest to re-enter the workforce through work anywhere and telecommuting options for decentralized jobs. If parents prioritize companies that offer flexible work options, recruiters and their organizations must start considering their needs if they hope to pull them and their expertise back into the workforce. Resume gaps are no reason to pass over a candidate, and data shows that these gaps are the some of the least predictive metrics of employee performance. Talent acquisition organizations that consider parents an asset instead of a liability will find employees with valuable skills, experience, and a desire to help build a company they are passionate about — as long as they have the flexibility to raise a family.