The unlikely ally to working moms in IT

Arguably one of the fastest-paced industries, where one system, language, or process is replaced by another in what seems like overnight fashion, technology makes it hard for working moms and those women who take time away from the workforce to re-enter and get ahead in the field.

The growing popularity of “Returnships” is taking a crack at counteracting women’s access to these jobs, and yet: “Women are still significantly underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Surprisingly, studies by the U.S. Census show that the number of women in computer fields has actually declined since the 1990s,” reads a Forbes article on the topic.

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Not to mention, Returnships and other similar programs – that slowly integrate a working mom back into the workforce – drastically limit earning potential, making it hard to not only reintegrate and ‘get back up to speed’ but to pay for child care while doing so.

IT Advisory Services and Management company, LABUR, recently placed a technical business analyst with one of their Boston clients after she had spent the last 10 years away from the workforce. Within the same month, LABUR had also placed a senior data migration/quality assurance analyst who had also taken several years off to start a family.

The business analyst’s initial doubt after LABUR CEO, Darrin Lang, reached out to her over LinkedIn tells a compelling story about the labor market, IT, and women’s opportunities in it.

“I need to be very upfront about one thing that has proven to be a much bigger deal than I ever anticipated. Simply put, I took a voluntary leave of absence from corporate life 10 years ago to focus on raising my children,” she said over a LinkedIn message. “In hindsight, what was one of the most rewarding decisions of my life also happens to be one of the worst things I could have done to my career.”

That was Barbie Rehm messaging with Lang last year. Her curt reply a reflection of previous outreaches that lead nowhere after employers and recruiters realized she had not been working full-time for the last decade.

Upon getting a position through LABUR as a business analyst – the same role, title, and level she had left the workforce with back in 2006 – Rehm shared what she thought the transition back to the workforce was going to be like, namely that she assumed she’d find comradery and understanding in fellow female colleagues. Instead, her biggest support has come from understanding and relatable dads – Lang, a father of three, being one of them – who saw through the gap of employment, time she took away to raise four kids, and straight to her potential and the skills she still has.

“Corporate America is not generous to mothers re-entering the workforce,” said Rehm in a catch-up email to Lang over the holidays this past year. “But I am happy to report that once here it has been a welcoming and warm experience.”

Rehm described that behind the scenes, she is working hard to make sure she’s up to speed on the things she might have missed during her time away from work. She said it’s not something she would have felt the need to do 15 years ago and that “it might just be a reflection of my own insecurities,” but that she doesn’t want anyone to question her qualifications.

But Rehm’s insecurity is not that uncommon, especially among working moms in the U.S. Caitlyn Collins – a sociologist and assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis who authored the book Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving – describes the imbalance, stress, exhaustion, and guilt working moms feel as “heartbreaking” – and, unfortunately, prevalent.

“In the U.S. we have this idea that what it means to be a good worker is to devote all of your time and all of your energy to the workplace with the hopes of demonstrating to your employers that you are fully committed and in allegiance with the goals of the workplace,” Collins was quoted saying in a transcript of her interview with Alison Beard of the Harvard Business Review’s weekly podcast, HBR IdeaCast.

Collins, who conducted interviews with working mothers in four countries — the U.S., Italy, Germany, and Sweden — found that American moms were by far the most stressed and that they “blamed themselves for their own stress and thought it was their own job to resolve.” When asked what it means to be a good mother, the working moms Collins was interviewing would often start crying.

“American moms so often felt like they were failing their children,” said Collins. “There was a really wide gap between their hopes for what it meant for them to be a good mom and what they were actually able to enact on a day to day basis.”

To recruit and retain highly skilled workers, like those in the technology field, perks including unlimited vacation days and parental benefits are being offered – but they’re going unused. In fact, Collins pointed to research that shows when unlimited paid vacation days are offered people actually end up taking less time off than they do when they’re given a certain number of days to take.

So how can companies make things better for working moms?

Collins recommends managers role model what it means to have a “sane work and family life” by using the policies that are in place – without consequences and stigma.

Rehm says to give moms the chance, gap of employment and all, like the one Lang gave to her.

“We know how to balance chaos, negotiate, and work under pressure really well,” said Rehm. “Because we’re doing it all the time, at home and at work.”

Seth Burr contributed to this article.

Brittney is the founder and lead consultant at BMUR Branding Group, LLC. She helps companies tell their story through a combination of brand conceptualization, creation, and management, content writing and strategy, marketing and public relations. Prior to founding BMUR, Brittney worked for Randstad and Robert Half, two of the largest staffing and recruiting companies in the world. To keep in touch with Brittney, connect with her on LinkedIn, follow her on Twitter or email.

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