A woman I know, a lawyer with an Ivy League degree and partner-track experience at a large corporate firm, took five years off to stay home with her two children. When she decided it was time to go back, she interviewed for an in-house counsel job at a mid-sized public company. During interviews she faced skepticism from the other in-house lawyers, executives who had never taken more than a two-week vacation from work. Most voted against hiring her. One lone executive in human resources insisted the company should not hold a few years at home against this candidate in light of her excellent education and work credentials. The woman got the job and flourished in the position.
Contrast this happy ending with most stories you hear about stay-at-home moms who attempt to return to work, cautionary tales of the perils of taking time off, accomplished women sending out 100s of resumes without getting hired. I’ve always wondered: can the collective national workplace be so foolish as to dismiss the thousands of ambitious, hard-working, impressively educated women who decided their children should be their main priority for a few years? Our culture, rooted as it is in capitalism, values consistent hard work and individual achievement without breaks – for any reason. This explains some of the skepticism stay-at-home moms face when trying to return to work.
But I wonder whether part of the bias is explained by working mothers: maybe we want stay-at-home moms to suffer a penalty for taking time off. Moms at home are the devil on every working mother’s shoulder: the women who chose their children over their jobs. Their decisions make us feel guilty about our own. Psychologically, maybe working moms seek to justify the superiority of our own, often guilt-ridden, anxiety-driven choices to continue our careers uninterrupted by disparaging stay-at-home moms for their foolish “feminine mistakes.”
The recent growth of executive staffing firms like MomCorps  and Flexperience Staffing  specializing in placing former stay-at-home moms in permanent and project positions suggests the workplace is catching on to this segment of the talent pool. Not coincidentally, both firms were started by working mothers who know exactly how much talent lies with well-educated stay-at-home mothers looking to return to flexible paid employment.
There are approximately 83 million moms in America today. Each of us juggles modern motherhood amidst social paradox and flux. Fifty years ago women struggled to force many law schools, business schools, and medical schools to admit women; women now make up 51% of the white-collar workforce. In the last 50 years, the percent of American women staying home dropped from 76% to 28%. In the middle of this societal chaos, none of us has the today’s work/kids paradigm figured out.
What’s your take? Do you work with any former stay-at-home parents? Been one yourself? Do you see overt or latent prejudice against parents who take breaks from the work treadmill for kids, and then try to return? What’s your bias?