Authors: Hewlett, Sylvia A.; Buck Luce, Carolyn
Source: Harvard Business Review
(This is an enhanced edition of HBR article R0503B, originally published in March 2005. HBR OnPoint articles include the full-text HBR article plus a summary of key ideas and company examples to help you quickly absorb and apply the concepts.) Most professional women step off the career fast track at some point. With children to raise, elderly parents to care for, and other pulls on their time, these women are confronted with one off-ramp after another. When they feel pushed at the same time by long hours and unsatisfying work, the decision to leave becomes even easier. But woe to the woman who intends for that exit to be temporary. The on-ramps for professional women to get back on track are few and far between, the authors confirm. Their new survey research reveals for the first time the extent of the problem--what percentage of highly qualified women leave work and for how long, what obstacles they face coming back, and what price they pay for their time-outs. And what are the implications for corporate America? One thing at least seems clear: As market and economic factors align in ways guaranteed to make talent constraints and skill shortages huge issues again, employers must learn to reverse this brain drain. Like it or not, large numbers of highly qualified, committed women need to take time out of the workplace. The trick is to help them maintain connections that will allow them to reenter the workforce without being marginalized for the rest of their lives. Strategies for building such connections include creating reduced-hour jobs, providing flexibility in the workday and in the arc of a career, removing the stigma of taking time off, refusing to burn bridges, offering outlets for altruism, and nurturing women's ambition. An HBR Special Report, available online at www.womenscareersreport.hbr.org, presents detailed findings of the survey.