Mother of Glass Ceilings: After Maternity Leave, Women Find Job Market Closed to Them

Mothers say they are prepared to take lesser jobs and adjust their family life, but employers are hesitant to take them on.

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A pregnant woman.Credit: Dreamstime

Riki Molina, 43 and the mother of 8-month-old Ayala, has been home for a year and a half – and she’s very frustrated. Despite a career as a logistics executive for both large companies and startups, she’s been looking for work for six months without any success.

“Before Ayala was born, I was accepted after every interview I’d ever done,” she recalls. “Over the last six months they’ve been very impressed during interviews, but I keep getting rejected. It’s like the holy trinity: a woman, over 40 and with a baby at home.”

Molina is not alone. Educated, talented and experienced, she is the kind of women who should be pursuing a career if she wants one. Yet when women return to the job market after giving birth they find offers few and far between, even when they apply for positions less senior than the ones they left or are prepared to drastically alter their family life to meet the needs of the job.

“Everyone’s impressed by my portfolio, until they learn I have a baby at home,” says one of the women who spoke to TheMarker.

Many employers don’t even bother contacting women who include the fact that they are mothers on their resumes, while others take a paternalistic attitude. “You’ll have a difficult time,” employers often say to women sitting across from them, effectively deciding for them that the women won’t be able to juggle raising a family and managing a career.

There’s evidence to corroborate these young mothers’ experience. A study published last year by the Economy Ministry on pregnancy and birth found that 90% of mothers return to work roughly a year after giving birth; for the rest, maternity leave continues – willingly or otherwise.

Elina Klein, a 27-year-old mother of 18-month-old Emily, faces an additional problem in her search for work. Her husband is a career officer in the Israel Defense Forces, which means her family moves to a different part of the country every two years. After they moved to Ramat David six months ago, Klein looked for a job in graphic design or teaching and eventually settled for freelance work. But without assistance from her parents, she admits, she and her husband would not have been able to manage.

“I looked for work in marketing firms, and every time I was interviewed they reviewed my portfolio and everything looked great – until we talked about home life. Because the work day ends at 5 P.M., they asked me again and again if I could work overtime. That’s a difficult issue, because I can’t guarantee that my husband will be at home. Our family is far away, and the grandmothers work too, but this discussion of overtime came up during every interview. It was hard and frustrating.”

In the end, Klein found a part-time job with a cosmetics company. The salary is low but the hours are short, and she manages to pick up her daughter from day-care every day by 4:45 P.M. She devotes her evenings to freelance work.

“Friends who went back to their old jobs after maternity leave tell me that things are better,” she says. “From that I gather that the main problem isn’t going back to your job, but finding a new one. When you go back to a place that knows you there’s lots of understanding and openness, but you have to prove yourself in a new place.”

“Our society is to blame, because it doesn’t help families find reasonable ways to combine home life and careers,” says Prof. Dalia Mor, vice president of academic affairs at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and an expert on integrating career and family life.

Nevertheless, she says, women can use strategies for overcoming the prejudice. One is considering how quickly she wants to reenter the job market: A woman who reenters the workforce quickly is showing her prospective employer that she is still committed to a career, while taking a long time signals – fairly or not – that parenthood has become the focus of her life.

Another is how she relates to her spouse or partner during the interview. “If the first thing you say is ‘my husband is a career soldier’ or ‘people in high-tech work very hard,’ any employer will think twice before hiring you. On the other hand, when you explain that your spouse is a partner in raising your children that sounds much better to an employer,” Mor explains.

Mor also advises compromise in weighing job offers. “It’s very frustrating to get a low salary, particularly if you’re talented and experienced,” but she stresses, “it’s important to remember that when you sit at home your salary is zero and your chances of getting a promotion are just as small. At that point you need to start thinking long-term. Get your family to help you, exert power and confidence, get out and work – and your salary will go up.”

Molina, who is in a relationship, took a career break during pregnancy. “I wasn’t sure if I should try for senior positions, like the ones I had in the past, or something a little less demanding, perhaps in administration or management, so I decided to go for both,” she says. “When I send out resumes for vice president openings, no one bothers replying. They just don’t answer. When I get called in for office manager positions, then the obvious question comes up: ‘Why would I, who’s already done bigger things, take a lower position? Why would I want to be an administrative manager and not a vice president?’ they ask.”

Typically they ask how she will manage if she has to work past 4 P.M. “My answer is simple: My daughter has a father, I have a large family and obviously I’ll manage when necessary, because I’d taken all of these issues into consideration when I applied for the job. But it doesn’t help, employers are worried.”

Hodaya Oren’s resume lists a degree in human resources, an advanced degree in law and 13 years’ experience in the public sector, most notably at the Prime Minister’s Office. But Oren, 30 and married to a career IDF officer, has two young children – 4-year-old Noam and 14-month-old Amit – and has been at home since her youngest was born.

At age 17, she started working in the PMO as part of her civilian national service and continued there in human resources without ever getting a tenured position. “I completed two degrees and had two children, the salary was high and the work was interesting, but as a temporary employee my job could not be extended under the law, and I couldn’t stay,” she says.

With no choice, she chose to stay home after her second maternity leave, and then began working on what she calls “the most difficult project of my life.”

“Over the last year I’ve gone out to find that it’s not easy to find a good job with a decent salary for a woman who has a great deal of experience and two degrees, who also happens to be a mother with two children in day-care until 4:45.”

Her husband is a captain in the Engineering Corps and often gets home late. “On paper, his work day is over at 5:30 P.M., but that doesn’t actually happen, so he doesn’t really help,” she says. “In this situation, my chances of finding a job that lets me pick up the kids on time are small.”

One possible solution is to hire a sitter to pick up the children, but Oren says that even if she finds work she doubts she will be able to afford one. “I apply to so many jobs and not only are the conditions difficult – split work days twice a week, even for people who live far away – but the salary is also insulting. In the best case, they’re offering 5,500 shekels ($1,440) per month.

“I applied for a position with a hospital. I went through all the processes of looking into national service and got to the last stage of the application process at the hospital. As far as I could tell they were impressed, and in the end they told me that, ‘all is well and good, but we’re talking about minimum wage.’ Minimum wage? You apply, go through a six-month process only to find out during the last stage that the salary they’re offering is so low, at a workplace so far away from home. We spend 6,000 shekels a month on day-care alone.”

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