27 September 2023

Expanding the definition of work: LinkedIn catches up

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Maria Aspan* says LinkedIn is adding ‘stay-at-home mum’ and more caretaker titles.

For years, mothers who’ve temporarily stopped working have asked LinkedIn for more ways to reflect a caregiving hiatus on their public, digital resumes.

Now they’re finally getting some better options.

On Tuesday, the Microsoft-owned professional social network is introducing several new job titles, including “stay-at-home mom,” to allow full-time parents and other caretakers to provide more accurate descriptions of their time away from the paid labour force.

LinkedIn is also removing its requirement that any resume entry—for example, “stay-at-home dad”—must be linked to a specific company or employer.

LinkedIn made these changes after Fortune asked for comment, earlier this month, on a Medium post criticising the social network’s lack of flexible language or profile options for women who leave the labour force.

More than 2.3 million women have done so in the past year alone, as the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and day-cares and decimated the service-oriented businesses that employ majority-female workforces.

“LinkedIn must remedy its implicit bias against women,” Heather Bolen wrote in a March 8 post headlined “How a Simple Platform Fix Can Help Millions of Women Trying to Re-enter the Workforce,” for the Better Marketing publication on Medium.

“Strikingly, there are zero pre-populated options on LinkedIn to identify maternity leave, parental leave, adoption leave, sick leave, bereavement leave, elderly care leave, or for long term injury/illness, education/re-training, volunteering, long term travel, a gap year, a sabbatical — or for a pandemic,” Bolen wrote.

“I’m left feeling disheartened and wondering why it is still necessary, in 2021, to manipulate a global platform like LinkedIn for something as common and essential as maternity leave.”

Her critiques resonated with LinkedIn executives, who say bigger fixes have long been in the works.

“I wholeheartedly agree that we need to normalise employment gaps on the profile to help reframe hiring conversations,” Bef Ayenew, director of engineering at LinkedIn, tells Fortune.

Ayenew says that the profile changes announced Tuesday are “a stopgap solution,” as LinkedIn continues working on a more comprehensive overhaul of its digital resumes.

In the coming months, LinkedIn says it will provide new flexibility and language to those who have stopped working for a period of time.

One planned change will allow users to create separate resume sections for employment gaps—clearly delineated from the rest of their paid work experience—and choose one of 10 different types of hiatus, including “parental leave,” “family care leave,” or “sabbatical.”

As part of its larger profile redesign, the company on Tuesday also unveiled several other changes, including a dedicated, formal field for LinkedIn users to add their gender pronouns to their profiles.

Such a pronoun entry has also been long requested by many LinkedIn users, who until now have found informal workarounds (like adding their pronouns to the end of their names).

“Pronouns are a core part of our identity, and how we want to present ourselves—and within the jobs marketplace, we believe that clarity about someone’s gender pronouns is very, very important,” Ayenew says.

He adds that making all of these changes to LinkedIn’s profiles “has taken more time than we would like” because of the degree of technology redesign it has required.

“The profile is very, very core and foundational to our entire ecosystem—so we have to be very careful and deliberate about the changes we make,” he says.

“We are finally getting to it—and we’re excited to be rolling it out.”

Bolen, for her part, was thrilled to hear about LinkedIn’s planned changes.

“It’s exciting: There’s the potential for LinkedIn to just normalise the conversation” around employment gaps, said the former corporate Starbucks employee, who left the paid workforce when she started having children, and who is now the founder of an online-education start-up.

“There shouldn’t be shame in trying to be open about taking time off and then wanting to come back,” she added.

“That’s even more the case with the pandemic, and all the women leaving the workforce.”

*Maria Aspan is a contributor at Fortune.

This article first appeared at fortune.com.

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