Women at greatest risk of “career gap stigma”

Research has revealed that women are more likely than men to face “career gap stigma” in the workplace due to gendered attitudes to women’s caregiving responsibilities. 

A national survey of over 2000 people carried out by unbiased hiring experts Applied found that nearly one in five women (18%) have been asked whether or not they have children (or plan to have children in the future) at some point during a recruitment process. Among senior managers, the number of women who said they’d been asked this question rose to two in five (40%).

The findings suggest this line of questioning stems from the stigma attached to the increased likelihood that women will need to take time out of work for childcare. The study found that women are three times more likely to take career breaks for childcare, compared to men. Almost four in ten (38%) women who’d taken a career break of 6 months or more cited childcare as the reason, compared to just 11% of men.  

Yet almost half of women found their career gap to be valuable. When asked whether they believed they had gained new or transferable skills, or enhanced their existing skill set, during their career break, 45% of the women surveyed for this study believed they had. This points to a disconnect between employers’ and employees’ perceptions of the impact and value of taking a career break.

The research, which was commissioned as part of a campaign looking to end career gap stigma, shows that 1 in 3 Brits have taken a career break overall. Of these people, 53% would rather not tell prospective employers about their time away from work due to the stigma attached.

Khyati Sundaram, CEO at Applied, comments:

“Nearly 1 in 5 women have been asked whether they have (or plan to have) children during a recruitment process: this number is far too high. It shows how outdated, gendered attitudes towards women’s caregiving responsibilities continue to act as barriers for women in the workplace – and this cannot continue. This inappropriate line of questioning has no place in ethical hiring processes, where skills – and not somebody’s future family plans – should be the sole measure of whether somebody is suitable for a role. 

“This International Women’s Day, to combat antiquated misconceptions surrounding career breaks and caregiving in the workplace, we’re calling on employers to embrace equity by adopting anonymous skills-based hiring models to remove unconscious bias from recruitment and ensure candidates with career gaps can showcase their skills – no matter where, how or when they gained them.”

How to re-enter the workforce following a career gap 

Advice from Khyati Sundaram, CEO at Applied

Identify the skills gained during your career break 

The idea that taking time away from work results in skill-fade is outdated. Whether you’ve taken time out to have a family, travel the world, or to do something else entirely, there’s no doubt that you’ll have picked up valuable transferable skills along the way. Whilst you should not be expected to explain or justify your career gap to potential employers, it’s worth thinking about the skills you’ve gained (particularly those that are relevant to the role you’re applying to) so that you’re ready to demonstrate and discuss these skills if called upon during your application or interview.

Refresh your knowledge of the sector you’re looking to enter

Whether you’re looking to enter into a new sector, or find a job in an industry you’ve had experience in before, it’s a good idea to brush up on the latest news, views, acronyms and policies to ensure your skills and knowledge are up to date. You may wish to reconnect with former colleagues or connections in your network who are currently working in the industry, or to sign up to a short refresher skills course or relevant newsletter. 

Seek out employers that champion skills-based hiring 

The skills you gain during a career break could be the very things that set you apart from the other candidates. And the best way to showcase those skills? Seek out employers that use a skills-based recruitment process. Skills-based hiring uses ‘work sample’ tests (where candidates are asked questions based on role-relevant scenarios) to find the candidate with the necessary skills for the job. Some employers who implement skills-based hiring will do away with CVs altogether and only test for role-relevant skills, which means they will not know about any ‘gaps’ on your CV, so any unconscious bias an employer may hold about career gaps cannot cloud decision-making. For women seeking senior positions, this style of hiring is particularly beneficial, with research revealing that skills-based hiring increases the number of women hired into senior roles by 68% compared with the global average. 

Consider a Returner Programme  

A Returner Programme involves creating roles specifically for career returners. Some employers will do this if they’re specifically looking to harness the skills and experiences of candidates with career breaks. Often, they’ll offer support and mentoring alongside the role to help returners successfully transition back into work. To find out more about finding an employer that offers a Returner Programme, I’d recommend checking out Women Returners who have lots of useful information on their website.

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