We try to impart values like honesty, transparency and righteousness to our children. We want to teach them to be self-confident and proud of their choices, to practice egalitarianism and fair-mindedness.
Too bad these values are so hard to maintain for parents in the job market. Explaining away a resume gap is fraught with pitfalls. If you took time off to be with your kids, might you appear less ambitious? By stepping away from your career for a bit, will you lose out to people who didn’t (or couldn’t) take time off and just kept climbing? Parental leave in this country, while becoming a bit more liberal, remains controversial and lagging; getting back into the job market after a gap is even tougher.
And for a long time, discussing one’s family life in an interview has been frowned upon, like bringing up halitosis or a passion for Ricky Martin, especially where women are concerned. It simply isn’t done. Talking about your kids could seem weak or unserious. Why hire a human when you could hire a robot, right?
Now, for some humanity: New research from two Vanderbilt University Law School economists has found that a female applicant strongly raises her chances of getting hired if she gives personal information clarifying her resume gaps.
In fact, according to Vanderbilt, women who conceal personal information dramatically reduce their hiring prospects.
In their experiment, researchers Joni Hersch and Jennifer Bennett Shinall asked 3,022 subjects to act as “potential employers” and choose between two equally qualified job candidates, similar except for their openness about a 10-year gap in their job histories.
Gaps were explained as being due to taking time off to raise kids or divorce; no information was offered for the other candidate. Surprisingly, female candidates who gave personal information raised their chances of being hired by 30 to 40 percentage points, compared with an equivalent female candidate who didn’t disclose personal information.
“What employers need to do is stop seeing these work/family balance issues as something exceptional, because 80 percent of college-educated women are in the workforce and they bear the majority of the childcare responsibilities,” Hersch was quoted as saying in a Vanderbilt press release.
Of course, we have a long way to go. The female wage gap persists. The fact that women even have to explain these absences is troubling. And, of course, some women might not even make it to the interview process because the resume gap could raise flags in the first place.
But on the plus side, maybe this research will help women feel empowered to be more candid and proud when it comes to talking about their personal lives. Men too. What are we hiding? The more we can normalize talking about family at work, the more we can integrate our personal values with our professional goals. Having a life outside of work, whether that means family or friends or bungee-jumping, is nothing to disguise. It makes us more fulfilled, more fully realized human beings and colleagues. It’s as important to our spiritual, mental and physical health as health care or vacation time. There’s no reason that seeking out a job offer that honors family values shouldn’t be a priority, just like insurance or time off.
At the very least, this news might help prove that honesty and candor is important, just as we teach our children. We don’t have to betray ourselves to pursue our goals. We can practice what we preach, whether that means taking time off to be with our children or tending to a sick parent. A gap in a resume doesn’t need to symbolize emptiness. It could symbolize a full life.
Hopefully, this news is a step toward creating workplaces that honor parents’ souls, not just their minds.