Career break stigma: employers urged to stop viewing CV gaps negatively - with mums worst affected
One in three people in the UK are reportedly at risk of ‘career gap stigma’, with mums returning to work after childcare leave disproportionately affected.
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Janna Scott took ten years off work following the birth of her second child, who has special needs.
Initially, she planned to only take a break of one or two years, but as her son started getting older, it became clear he needed more support. Janna wanted to focus on his development and ended up homeschooling him part-time - something which made continuing her career in sports marketing impossible.
Now 42, Janna is back in work in a role at London Sport, which she adores. But getting there was hugely challenging because of something often referred to as the ‘career gap penalty’, or, for women, the ‘motherhood penalty’.
Janna, who lives in Bexley, London, explained to NationalWorld: “I was asked about my career gap every time I applied somewhere. There were questions like, ‘Does your son take up a lot of your time still? What happens if there’s another pandemic, will you need to look after him?’
“There was an assumption that because I took time off to focus on being a mother, I would do the same again. There also seemed to be the assumption that because I have a special needs child, I’ll need a lot of time off, which isn’t the case. I felt I was assessed on my history rather than on whether I was a good fit for the role.”
It is stories like Janna’s that have prompted new campaign #DontMindTheCareerGap, led by Applied, ‘a debiased hiring platform’, and Women Returners, a service that helps women back into work following time off. #DontMindTheCareerGap is calling upon employers to only ask candidates to share the number of months or years they spent in previous roles in job applications, instead of specific dates - in a bid to protect the millions of workers reportedly at risk of ‘career gap stigma’.
According to a survey of 2,001 adults, conducted by Censuswide, one in three people in the UK have taken a career gap (a period of six months or more out of work, through choice or necessity). Of this group, more than half (53%) would prefer not to share the ‘gap’ on applications - a figure which rises to 77% amongst C-Level Executives, suggesting it can be more difficult to return to work following a career break if you’re looking to re-enter the workforce at a senior level.
The most common reason for time off in the UK is childcare, with 25% of respondents citing this in the survey. However, this disproportionately affects women, with 38% of women who had taken a career gap offering childcare as the reason in comparison with just 11% of men. Other reasons include mental or physical health, cited by 20% of respondents, or taking care of a friend or relative, which 9% of those surveyed had done.
Something which united the majority (51%) of respondents was the belief that during their career gap, they had gained new skills, developed transferable skills, or enhanced their existing skill set - and that this was not recognised by employers. This disconnect between employers’ and employees’ perceptions of career gaps - and the subsequent lack of nuance in job applications, was felt by Janna when she was trying to return to the workforce.
The sports marketer and mum-of-two told NationalWorld: “While I did hold a few casual roles during my time off, such as a swimming instructor or exam invigilator, the challenges I overcame and the skills and awareness I developed outside of work were just as, if not more, valuable.”
One of the examples she gave was the many processes which parents of special needs children must go through, such as creating an ‘education, health and care plan’. “It’s harder than anything I’ve ever done at work,” Janna explained. “You have to negotiate funding for your child, whilst being heavily emotionally involved, but you are of course unable to show that emotion.”
She added that experiences such as volunteering or caring for an elderly parent, or acting as “trainee teacher” or “trainee hairdresser” during the coronavirus pandemic, should be valued - and asked about - by employers too.
What helped Janna when she was applying for her current role at London Sport is that the application was situational - and did not ask for information about her career gap or ask her to draw on experiences from her most recent job. She said: “When I didn’t have to supply my employment history it was a different story. I didn’t have to explain or justify my career gap, or worry that I’d come up against prejudice, and instead, I was able to demonstrate my potential and the transferable skills I’ve gained.”
She continued: “Now, I know that if an employer asked about my career gap in the future, it would likely say more about their preconceptions than my own capabilities.”
Khyati Sundaram, CEO of campaign co-creator Applied, commented: “At Applied, we believe unconscious bias has no place in recruitment - and that every candidate has the right to be judged purely based on their skills. This is why we’re campaigning to end the stigma surrounding career gaps.
“We want employers to help level the playing field for all candidates by evolving their application process so that candidates with career gaps cannot be screened out of the process early. The notion of ‘skill-fade’ during a career gap is a fallacy and we want to ensure all candidates are given a fair and equal chance to succeed.”
Julianne Miles, co-founder and CEO of Women Returners, added: “Embracing career returners is a necessity for employers, the economy and society if we are to tackle skills shortages, close the gender pay gap and build a strong and diverse workforce.”