In 2014, the United States Navy introduced a program which allowed women to take a year off and return to duty without risking either their career or their future commands. The women can start a family, get a degree or do anything they need to do with their lives, without having to quit work to do so. But, the Navy is an exception and the rule of the majority is not so considerate, in such cases. For most women, a decision to take time off has immediate financial implications as well as a long-term adverse effect on one’s career.
Leaves of absence may be used to address family needs, advance ones education, or pursue personal interests. The U.S. Federal Government, via the Family Medical Leave Act, ensures the rights of workers to job-protected and unpaid leave to address personal or family illness, family military leave, pregnancy, adoption, or the foster care placement of a child. However, a report issued by the Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management found great disparities in the type of workers who receive paid time off — either vacation time or sick days or more general paid leave. Of the 1,000 firms surveyed, more than 92% offered paid leave to full time workers, but less than a third of those companies offered paid vacation benefits to part-time workers, and only 25% offered paid sick days. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics twice as many women as men (9.8 million men in 2014 to 17. 7 million women) hold part time positions, resulting in large numbers of women ineligible for paid time off.
In addition, research conducted by the Pew Research Center indicates that roughly four-in-ten mothers say they have taken a significant amount of time off from work (39%) or reduced their work hours (42%) to care for a child or other family member. In contrast, just 24% of fathers say they have taken a significant amount of time off to care for a child or other family member. In addition, 27% say they have quit work altogether to take care of familial responsibilities.
And, the disparities don’t end there. The Pew study also indicated that women who did take a leave of absence for any reason stated that, although they did not regret their action, a significant number reported that it hurt their careers and limited their advancement opportunities.
Quit is what most women do, the world over, when they face demands on their time from family. Family duty done, they find themselves free to return to an active work life, but lack a helping hand to make the transition easily. Many women lose confidence, believing that the career train has accelerated on without them. When returning to the workforce, many encounter recruiters who hold their ‘sabbatical’ as a disqualification against them. In fact, some online resume screening tools are configured to automatically reject any resume indicating a break in services of more than a few months.
What Can Women Do?
Women who find themselves unable to get a breakthrough could adopt some strategies to gain a better footing in the job market:
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