Bryan Tomlin and his familyJuly 28, 2022 —Stay-at-home mothers know their 24/7 unpaid job involves the skills of a nurse, cook, chauffeur, therapist, maid, endurance athlete, logistics expert and, in the case of toddlers—conflict negotiation.

Yet, a study conducted by CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) Associate Professor of Economics Bryan Tomlin, Ph.D., suggests that employers tend to view time taken off for maternity duties the same way they would view a period of unemployment or any other unexplained gap in a woman’s resume.

For his study, which was published in the Journal of Economics Behavior & Organization, Tomlin, with the help of his Economics students, sent out résumés from fictional new mothers who either 1) continued working; 2) explicitly mentioned having been a stay-at-home mom; 3) had an unexplained resume gap; or 4) took a break from work in her field, but worked in the childcare industry while raising her own child/children. Except for those differences, the resumes were identical.

Compared to the new mothers who continued working, the other three groups were about half as likely to receive a response to their application. They were treated the same way as an applicant who had been unemployed during that period of time.

“Other studies have shown—and they looked at males and females—your odds of getting a callback for an interview were 50% less if you had been unemployed,” Tomlin said. “That’s exactly what I found in my research.”

The concept for his research project arose from Tomlin’s wife, Sarah, who left the work force to be home with their three children, ages nine, six and three. Seeing the variety of skills Sarah needs to be a mother, Tomlin realized how valuable these skills would be in the workplace and wondered if employers felt the same way.

“What was key to me and got me into it was realizing just how hard kids are,” he said. “You don’t get any breaks. When you’re working at a job, you take lunch with your peers. You enjoy a sandwich, you enjoy a coffee. If you’re a mom, you have to wait until the kids are taking a nap to try to catch up on the laundry or cleaning or try to take a nap yourself. My job is infinitely easier than Sarah’s. And she gets nothing. I get paid.”

Before leaving the workforce to raise the kids, Sarah used her logistics and organizational expertise working as a project manager for large corporations in the fields of residential/commercial construction. She also worked as a manager for various environmental nonprofits.

A 2020 study by LinkedIn outlined the struggles of working mothers who took time off, then tried to return to work. Key findings showed that 60% of working mothers who took time off, then returned to work, said it was challenging to re-enter the workforce. More than half (52%) of women felt they would be dismissed if they highlighted this gap on their résumés.

Tomlin and his students applied for administrative assistant positions across the Los Angeles area. They sent out about 400 resumes with about 100 from each category of mom. Tomlin’s control group consisted of about 100 résumés from moms who continued to work.

Because it is illegal for employers to directly ask if a job applicant is a parent, Tomlin’s study signaled maternity by listing that each applicant volunteered in their child’s school as a “room mom.”

The job Tomlin’s résumés targeted were all administrative assistant positions, so he could not say whether the results would be different if a mom had specialized training or was advanced in a specific career field, but he is considering similar studies for women applying for more specific professional positions or possibly for men who take time out to be stay-at-home dads.

Based on personal observation and his study, Tomlin knows one thing for sure:

“To be a good parent, you have to be an incredible person,” he said.

To read Tomlin’s study, visit:

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