For Suhavi (12) and Aikas (5) their mother, Meeta Bajaj, has been the quintessential soccer mom. As a full-time mother, Meeta's numerous responsibilities included getting her kids' dental work done, buying their school books and making sure that they were in time for their swimming lessons, riding lessons and violin practice. Baking brownies and making Valentine day's cards, as and when needed, were some of the other chores of this Tampa, Florida woman.
However, now with Aikas starting school, Meeta finally has the time to get back to her professional life - something she says she will enjoy if she can manage it. "All these years I have been thinking of going back to work but now that the time has come I don't really know where to start," she says.
One of her biggest fears is that now she has no idea about the kind of jobs that are in demand. "I can't decide whether I should go into sales or do a course in commercial art and look for openings as an artist," she shares. But, even as Meeta is confused about the options available to her, one thing is clear - she would still have to continue doing the full-time job of looking after her children. "For me, getting a job would mean I would be doing two jobs - one, as a full-time mom and the other outside my home. So, I am looking for something that would have flexible hours and would allow me to keep my commitments with my kids." Another thing that has been weighing on her mind is the fact that she took a 10-year break from work to raise her children. "I don't know how to explain this gap in job interviews," she says.
However, Meeta is not alone in this crisis of confidence. Most stay-at-home mums go through this phase when they want to return to their professions after a considerable period of time. According to Bill Coleman, Senior Vice President of Compensation at Salary.com Inc., job interviews can be easy for such mothers if they first understand their strengths and then project them accurately. "If moms take a moment and reflect on what they do, they will realise they are marketable," he says. Stay-at-home moms can offer a number of skills to prospective employers, including multi-tasking, empathising, mature decision-making, organisation, project management, patience and conflict resolution. Most mothers are able to develop these skills while raising their kids from toddlers to teenagers. "If they want to market themselves in the interview they should connect the dots for the employers and point out to some of these skills sets. They tend not to do so and end up with lowest paying jobs," he adds.
Salary.com, a Massachusetts-based compensation specialist firm, has been encouraging mothers who want to get back to work by telling them their worth in dollars using a salary calculator. Mom Salary Wizard is an interactive online tool they devised after interviewing 40,000 mothers. In fact, it was an instant hit when they put it up on their web site last year. The Wizard calculates the hours they spend weekly doing ten different jobs and matches this with the pro-rated salary. Some of the jobs listed include that of a housekeeper, a cook, a driver, a facilities manager, a CEO and a psychologist. According to the company, a mother typically puts in a 92-hour workweek, working 40 hours at base pay and 52 hours overtime. This year, the Salary Wizard placed the annual pay packet for moms at an impressive $138,095(US$1=Rs40).
There is more encouraging news for mothers. In its research, Salary.com found that over 95 per cent of employers hire former stay-at-home moms, while over 80 per cent are actively recruiting moms re-entering the workforce. However, despite these promising figures, most women are still apprehensive about their chances.
This is the case with Priya Pillai, who was doing very well in her career as an inside sales representative before giving it all up to look after her two pre-school daughters, Devi and Maya. "I am aware that I have gained skills as a mother. I'm good at problem solving and multitasking. However, I am still sceptical about their worth at the time of job interviews in the fast-moving business world," she admits. Priya feels that even if she elucidates her expertise, a lot would still depend on the interviewer. "If the interviewer is single or a workaholic with little regard for family life, s/he wouldn't understand my experiences as a stay-at-home mom," she fears. She too is wary about the long gap on her resume. "I am aware that there are a number of new graduates and people with lots of work experience in the job market now. I feel employers will give them first preference as opposed to somebody like me who has been out of the job market for six to eight years. Even though I am qualified I feel I might not be able to get where I want to be," rues Priya.
Coleman, however, believes that getting the right break depends on what mothers do with their time while they are away from work. He suggests that before they forward their applications they should start networking by getting in touch with their children's friends' parents, neighbours and former co-workers. "It is convenient for mums to watch Sesame Street (an American educational children's television series) but they should also try and keep in touch with the working world," he says. For instance, if mothers want to join the hi-tech industry they should keep themselves updated on the latest vocabulary and current buzzwords by reading industry magazines. "They would be able to market themselves better at the time of interviews if they do so," he adds.
Salary.com found that employers are changing their attitude about stay-at-home mothers. Recruiters in several sectors, including health, government and not-for- profit, are on the look out for stay-at-home caregivers rejoining work. The onus now is on mums to take up the challenge and project to the employers that after having taken on the most important job in the world - parenting - everything is a piece of cake.