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Women returning to work: The Reasons

Women Returning to WorkRecently, two career industry colleagues and I presented a webinar for more than 100 University of Pennsylvania alumnae regarding the issues women face when returning to work. We received such a high level of interest and response that we agreed to share our information here, as well. 

By Jeri Hird Dutcher

The most common reasons a woman stops working and then returns to work define the issues that will affect her job search and resume.

There are five common times women return to work, and they happen to follow the stages of a mother’s life.

The first is Maternity Leave. This is usually a gap of only a few weeks or months. A job change at this time is often a convenience, since the woman was going to be gone from work anyway and may have time for the job search. These resumes and searches don’t usually present problems unless the prospective employer considers young children a problem for the company. Thankfully, that attitude is less prevalent than it used to be.

The second stage comes with The Last First Grader, when the last child goes to school. This gap is likely between 5 and 10 years. Job search issues include confidence level because women taking care of young children often feel like they haven’t been in the  “adult” world for awhile. Other issues can include being out of touch with your career field and network by failing to volunteer, stay in associations, or perform consulting.

The third stage is the Empty Nest, when children go to college.
One of my all-time favorite clients was a mom returning to work after 15 years out of the workforce. She had so many strikes against her that we laughed at her chances of finding a job in our small city.

  • She had been a computer programmer and now wanted to be an event planner.
  • She had not a single day of paid experience in event planning.
  • She wasn’t available for travel, which event planners usually do, because she had two teenagers at home and a deployed military husband.
  • She was available to work only for a year until her husband returned and they would be reassigned to another state.

We wrote a resume based almost entirely on her volunteer experience, which admittedly was considerable.
I coached her to network into the department.
She interviewed for and landed the first job she applied for, and they were delighted to have her for a year.
That doesn’t happen for everyone, but I want you to know that it CAN happen.

Stage 4 is Recovery. Women are often the ones caring for ill or elderly family members, or in some cases, they are going back to work after their own significant illness such as cancer. In addition to issues of not keeping up with a career field and network, there can be perceived issues of age, technology, energy level, and insurance costs.

The final stage is Economic Crisis, and can happen anytime. It is sometimes the result of an economic downturn in family finances. For example, during the recent recession, we saw women going back to work when the spouse or partner lost a job or the family feared losing their home.

More often, it is a divorce, death of a spouse, or a retirement gone bad that forces a woman back to work in her 50s or 60s. These are the most difficult re-entry resumes mainly because the woman is suffering shock, denial and lack of confidence, in addition to age bias on the part of so many employers.

Stay tuned for information about branding, resumes, and your job search. You can view the entire webinar including audio questions and answers with each career expert, with all three of us at the end, and a bonus text Q&A.

Photo credit: Deb Nystrom


Women returning to work: Your Brand

Women returning to work: Your Resume

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