Why do women leave careers after having invested heavily in developing the skills that would help them succeed in their career? Some research suggests that “many women do not freely choose to leave the workplace, but instead are pushed out by persistent workplace barriers such as limited workplace flexibility, unaffordable childcare, and negative stereotypes about working mothers”
I found an interesting report prepared by Choose 2 Lead Women’s Foundation for the Department of Labor listing the following reasons for why women are leaving the workforce: * These women are not monolithic, but can be characterized as generally fitting into one of the * following scenarios:
* always knew they would leave to raise children
* wanted to pursue an entrepreneurial path
* satisfied with their job but factors and events forced a decision
* dissatisfied with their job and factors and events led to their decision
* A critical factor in most women’s career decision-making processes is job satisfaction, which includes workplace culture and practices.
* Many mid-career women desire job flexibility or predictable schedules, yet many careers are linear and jobs are one-size-fits-all, resulting in a mismatch between supply and demand. * Many women could have been retained if employers would have restructured job requirements. In addition, Choose 2 Lead Women’s Foundation reported some perspectives and concerns of female executives were: * Some executive women expressed frustration as they perceive that a male-dominated, inflexible corporate culture can constrain their abilities to succeed. Several senior women told of being excluded from firm-wide leadership positions and even from key decision-making, which often takes place informally between male leaders during social gatherings on weekends.
* Some of the most senior women perceive that many women do not wish to advance. * Technology has had an impact not only on the way people work but also where and when they work. Some women believe technology facilitates their success, while others feel as if they are “on the clock” 24 hours a day, seven days a week. * Senior women interviewed sometimes feel overwhelmed by the hectic schedules they keep to fulfill their job responsibilities. Several would be willing to reduce their responsibilities and compensation. * Several successful women reported that their attachment to the paid workforce was influenced in part by the degree of support they received, such as a spouse that truly helped significantly at home, employer acknowledgement of work/family responsibilities, and supportive, quality childcare
Sharmila Rudrappa from the University of Texas’ Center for Women’s and Gender studies says, “The top three reasons (women leave work) all had to do with life stages. Listed below:
* Personal/ family obligations (79%)
* Excessive work hours that hindered their abilities to meet familial
* obligations (73%)
* Personal choice to stay home to be a wife, or mother (67%)
* Inadequate salary compensations (46%)
* Forced choice to stay at home to be wife/ mother (38%)
* American women, by far, listed excessive work hours as the reason for leaving (81%, versus 63% and 71% for Asian and European women; 55% of the Latin American women found work hours excessive). * http://www.dell.com/downloads/global/corporate/press/20050419_ut_whitepaper.pdf
How might companies assist women who would like to return to the workforce?
But what is to be done? Organizations like Moms Rising and the Mothers Movement Online have stepped up the pressure for reforms like flexible work hours and paid parental leave. Such changes probably would help lower-income women in the most unforgiving workplaces. But they are unlikely to affect the behavior of the highly educated women with the highest opt-out rates.