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by Aman Singh Das | May 25, 2011


I am a young career woman. And I want to have kids in the near future while pursuing a career.

Now that that’s out of the way, let's talk about the blog that has everyone—and their egos—up in arms. Namely, this one: Young Female Employees: A Risky Investment?

First, the obvious: Simon Murray said something completely insensitive, politically incorrect and hugely hurtful to women.

But more important is the issue he spotlights: That gender disparity in our work culture and benefits policies marches on despite decades of regulations, laws and feminist protests, right from the hiring process to career advancement and succession planning.

In a career spanning almost 50 years, Murray was undoubtedly responsible for a lot of hiring decisions over the years. And if this is how he feels after a) witnessing the women's liberation movement, b) the regulations that followed; and c) today when women make up half of the workforce; are we naïve enough to assume he is alone?

While many of our commentators understood that, several took offense that we bothered to give space to Murray's statement. So here's a question: Would you rather try and address a problem systemically or shove it under the carpet because it makes you uncomfortable?

As a young career woman, Murray's statement riled me but the American Express case made me think. What will it take for companies to keep their women employees happy, engaged and committed at work, with babies or without?

Because address it or not, the issue is real and present. And according to Laura Sherbin, the SVP and director of research with the Center for Work-Life Policy, things aren't a lot better.

Noting a 2009 study coauthored by Sherbin and the Center's founder Sylvia Ann-Hewlett titled Off-Ramps and On-Ramps Revisited, she said, "Over 89 percent of women are desperate to come back to work but cannot because of lack of flex work options."

She added: "The model of 'all or nothing' continues to mean either sacrificing your kids or your careers; and for most women, this choice means giving up on a career." Insisting that flextime must become an across-the-board benefit for men and women in the US, Sherbin said, "Flextime continues to be seen as an accommodation for those women who have kids, which makes the benefit that much more harder for employees who are not parents—men and women—to take advantage of."

Why do qualified women continue to fall off the career ladder?

With children being the No.1 reason for women leaving the workforce across industries as this graph above suggests, Sherbin was quick to denounce any remaining assumptions of an equal-playing field.

"People making the [hiring, promotions, etc.] decisions are not having conversations with the women before making those decisions. Instead they are assuming that women don’t want the jobs that require longer hours, more traveling, etc. And so children or no children, all women end up getting stereotyped that way."

For more evidence, she pointed me to the complete report. Some noteworthy statistics:

  • • A full 69 percent of women say they wouldn’t have off-ramped if their companies had offered flexible work options such as reduced-hour schedules, job sharing, part-time career tracks or short unpaid sabbaticals.
  • • 54 percent of off-ramping women left without even discussing flex options with their supervisor.
  • • Although 89 percent of off-ramped women want to resume their careers, only 40 percent successfully return to full-time work.
  • • Only 9 percent of on-ramping women want to go back to the company where they used to work. In 2004 the figure was 5 percent.

So what is the real issue here?

The fact that a British executive said some highly insensitive things or that our corporate system is flawed?

Because the same law that seemingly protects women by mandating maternity leave while securing their job instantly alienates the other demographics of the workplace, i.e., the men who cannot take paternity leave because they don’t have the guaranteed job security and the other women who choose not to have children but are relegated to the same category.

As Sherbin pointed out, "both parents must have the same options of flextime and maternity/paternity leave. Once we remove this separation of benefits and assumptive roles, then we can really have a conversation."

As women executives, lawyers, associates, consultants, etc. what is your responsibility toward ensuring that future leaders don't segregate women like Murray did? What will it take for our workplaces to really be equal?

Make your voice heard. Take this short survey and tell us: Have things really changed for women in the modern workplace? Are we shedding traditional stereotypes as we move forward or regressing?

Survey: Do Women Have Real Choice in Today's Workplace?

BigLaw, Mommies & Maternity Leave: Benefit For All or Only Those Returning?
Britain Wants More Women on Top
The Sponsor Effect: Why Qualified Women Don't Make it To Leadership


Filed Under: CSR

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