Opinion: How three letters on a resume could be a game changer for working moms

Editor’s Note: Kara Alaimo, an associate professor of communication at Fairleigh Dickinson University, writes about issues affecting women and social media. Her book “Over the Influence: Why Social Media Is Toxic for Women and Girls — And How We Can Take It Back” was recently published by Alcove Press. Follow her on InstagramFacebook and X. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.

This Mother’s Day, HeyMama, a community for working moms, is calling on moms to add the title of “mother” to our resumes by including it on our LinkedIn titles and openly explaining career gaps due to caregiving in the hiring process. They’re right to tell us to do so. If all of us moms embraced this role on the documents designed to capture our qualifications, skills and work experience, we could help upend ugly stereotypes about the motivations and worth of moms who work in the paid labor force.

Kara  Alaimo - Courtesy Kara Alaimo
Kara Alaimo - Courtesy Kara Alaimo

Lauren Tetenbaum, a therapist and advocate who specializes in maternal mental health, says when moms return to work after having kids or taking career breaks, they’re often up against misperceptions that they’re not fully committed to their jobs.

This unfair and untrue stereotype can, of course, be a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, employers are unlikely to invest in, promote or even highly value people who they think are checked out of their careers.

On the other hand, employers seem to reward men who are fathers. According to research published last year by Pew Research Center, men who have children out-earn childless men.

But new research by Vivvi, a childcare provider that works with companies, and The Fifth Trimester, a gender equity consultancy focused on caregivers at work), shows that parents overall are ambitious when it comes to their careers. Their survey found one of parents’ biggest motivations is earning more money. That makes sense: raising kids is hugely expensive. According to a 2022 estimate by the Brookings Institution, it would cost $310,605 to raise a child born in 2015 to age 17h. Then, parents might help with the cost of college. Some universities are expected to soon charge over $100,000 per year.

Lauren Smith Brody, founder of The Fifth Trimester, told me the survey results are consistent with what she has seen in her work coaching moms. “These women tell me their kids are the ones who inspire them to seek meaning in their work and to stay longer in their jobs and do business development that pays off for both their employers and themselves,” she says. “They aren’t distracted from their career goals by their children as our cultural narrative would have you believe.”

Clearly, our society needs to rethink its assumptions about the professional commitment and value of mothers and their labor.

“Being a mother is something you should be proud of, and you have tons of leadership, social and emotional skills that are transferable to the workplace,” Tetenbaum says.

As moms, many of us have to become expert at interviewing and hiring in order to find quality childcare providers. We multitask in order to juggle the demands of our jobs with caring for our families and homes. We negotiate with often irrational people and diffuse conflicts. We conduct research to make endless decisions, from choices of pediatricians to summer camps. We try to be model citizens in order to set good examples for our children.

All of this is much more challenging than any paid position I’ve ever held — including my jobs as spokesperson for global economic diplomacy in President Barack Obama’s administration and as head of communications for an initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General.

Mothers should therefore be valued and recruited for our skills — not discriminated against in the workforce.

Of course, if only a few women add the title of mom to their resumes, they might be discounted by ignorant employers. But if we all collectively start highlighting the skills motherhood has given us, we could educate employers about why they should value and actively recruit moms — and why they shouldn’t look down on career breaks for caregiving (which is especially important for the many women who took time off work during the Covid-19 pandemic.)

One way employers can attract more moms is by offering childcare benefits. According to the report by Vivvi and The Fifth Trimester, every dollar employers invest in childcare is associated with a return on investment of nearly $18, because it helps retain and attract parents and promote productivity.

Another thing companies can do is stop requiring overwork. When employers expect staffers to work or be available to work an excessive number of hours, often the father takes the job requiring the overwork and the mother steps back from her career.

Many mothers are very motivated to advance in their careers — and our caregiving roles give us all a formidable set of skills that could be extraordinarily valuable to employers. Updating our resumes could prompt employers to update the ways they view and treat moms in the workforce, giving moms something to be truly happy about this Mother’s Day.

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