The story is nothing new or surprising. Sally S., assistant manager and in the running to become the regional big boss, had to go on maternity leave for a couple of months. She was in the cusp of a big promotion but, naturally, career has to take a back seat in deference to familial priorities.
A temp has been hired to assume her work duties and a leave of absence should be a welcome respite from the grueling 9am to 6pm daily grind.
But Sally is far from relaxed. Even with the assurance that she has a job to go back to after a couple of months, there’s just no trusting “certainty”.
Would she really be able to pick up where she left off?
A recent study proves that Sally’s worries are not totally irrational. The Wharton Center for Leadership and Change has released study findings that “70 percent of women who step out of the workforce to raise a family are positive about their decision, but upon reentry, 50 percent feel discouraged by employers about their opportunities for full-time employment.”
Entitled “Back in the Game: Returning to Business after a Hiatus”, the study offers one overarching advice that women should “plan their comeback before they step out.”
The study was completed with support from the Forte Foundation, which is composed of members from major corporations, top business schools and influential nonprofit groups concerned about providing more empowering opportunities for women in the workforce.
According to findings, women who exit the workforce to focus on the family “hit wall upon reentry.”
Commissioners of the study have recommended steps to curb the exodus of female talent from large corporate workforce. Together, corporations, universities and women themselves have been advised to pitch in to reverse this trend.
“Baby boomers are on the brink of retiring in droves and leaving behind the largest labor shortage in history. Now is not the time for corporations to squander billions of dollars in talent and enthusiasm at their fingertips,” said Monica McGrath, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor at the Wharton School of Business, who spearheaded the study.
Among others, the study zeroed in on a common pattern especially by returning, young women worker: They switch to smaller companies.
With this change also came a shift in their workplace roles. The study indicated that 61 percent of women reentering the workforce changed industries, 54 percent changed functional roles, and 83 percent made do with comparable or lower positions.
Forty-five percent who have returned to the workforce, the study noted, have chosen self-employment.
The study enumerated steps by which returning women workers can plan their comeback, and part of it is by making sure one has a “stepping-out support network.”
Women who have “stepped out” should also consider volunteering occasionally while away, maintaining professional licenses and memberships, securing contract work in the interim, and preparing financially in the event that reentry into the workforce takes longer than originally planned.
“Back in the Game” also discussed the role of big corporations’ recruiting and retention policies and why resumes of returning women workers are not on top of the heap when it comes to management positions.
The study recommends that corporations provide these candidates time for readjustment.
However, corporations are not solely to blame, the study points out. “The lack of ongoing education and career counseling for women managers is making it virtually impossible for women propelled into a fast-paced business environment to present themselves as having updated skills.”
With corporations, universities and every individual woman doing their share to prevent the exodus of women in the workforce, working mothers like Sally S. will have less to worry about.