I grew up around working women all my life – my grandmothers, mother, sister and wife have spent the vast majority of their lives working, so I’m always interested in the tug-of-war that goes on as professional women have children and decide whether they will stay in the workforce or stay home.
Add this study to the body of knowledge suggesting women with MBAs are far more likely to be homemakers than women doctors or lawyers:
"Women with MBAs are more likely to opt out of the workforce than women with M.D.s or law degrees, a study of Harvard degree-holders suggests. Professors Catherine Wolfram and Jane Leber Herr at the University of California at Berkeley followed the career paths of nearly 1,000 women who got such Harvard degrees from 1988 to 1991.
Their finding: Some 28% of the MBA graduates were full-time mothers 15 years later, vs. 21% of the lawyers and 6% of the doctors. One likely reason for the disparity: Many of the doctors and lawyers said they could arrange flexible hours, while “the infrastructure is not there in the business world,” says Elissa Ellis-Sangster, executive director of the Forté Foundation, which encourages female MBA candidacies. (Female enrollment at 25 of the top full-time U.S. MBA programs hovers around 31%, according to the foundation.)
Women MBAs juggling children and career may also have weaker ties to their profession, partly because they have invested less money in their schooling than lawyers and doctors do. Finally, says Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings law school in San Francisco, many women in business school “end up being stay-at-home wives” because they meet and marry ambitious men who want them to manage the family’s life full-time."
Here’s an interesting experience from my own family. My wife and I have two children, and she’s a career prosecutor. After having our first child, her office was very supportive and flexible, allowing her to work three day weeks in a classic retention play. That worked for a awhile, but ultimately she moved to four-day weeks because of the demands of the job.
Later, as she was contemplating staying home for a year or two, the employer asked her what was important to her (great move). She said, "being there when my son gets off the bus at 3:15pm". They said, "do it, we’ll make it work" (great move).
Unfortunately, the employer was willing, but society was not. The demands of the job were such that getting away at 3pm most days was impossible, so she ultimately decided to stay home for a couple of years.
The lesson from our family is that the employer and the manager can be willing, but the entire enterprise has to be flexible enough to redesign jobs to fit the needs of professional women facing this dilemma. Everybody seems to want to do that, but it’s easier said than done.
Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He’s also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.