As school starts, many women think about re-entering the workforce after taking time away to focus on family. But how many will successfully relaunch?
This is no small question for businesses, which now face a looming talent shortage as the baby boomers retire. The Center for Talent Innovation has found that nearly one-third of highly qualified women voluntarily leave their jobs for extended time periods, and nearly three-quarters have nonlinear career trajectories. In addition, the U.S. labor force participation rate has dropped to a 38-year low, and women who leave the workforce play a key role: America once had one of the highest labor participation rates among women age 25 to 54, according to CNN, but now ranks among the lowest. Unfortunately for employers, millennial women are even more likely than their predecessors to plan to scale back at work at certain times or to seek out flexible jobs, according to surveys reported by The New York Times.
Employers can take some simple steps to welcome back the millions of " opt-out Moms":
Change the hiring mindset. Companies locked into hiring only traditional "up-and- comers" will lose out to competitors who find broader sources of talent. Hiring managers need to learn interview techniques that value the diverse career paths of women who have taken an off-ramp.
Build better on-ramps. The career reentry resource irelaunch reports an "explosion" of career reentry programs since 2004 and to date has identified 135 return-to-work programs, including programs at universities, government agencies, professional associations, non-profits and foundations as well as with employers. From multi-month "returnships" to one-day workshops, programs that help returning employees get up to speed will maximize productivity.
Create a culture of flexibility. Companies that help all employees improve work-life balance are also better positioned to take advantage of talented women returning to the workforce. That doesn't simply mean giving employees the chance to telecommute or work reduced hours. It means creating a vibrant culture of flexibility, which can include benefits such as relocation assistance, on-site personal services, and health and wellness seminars - all among the offerings of the Forbes Top 25 Companies for Work-Life Balance.
Talent, judgment, energy, education and dedication are all qualities typical of professional women who have taken an off-ramp. The adjustments required to re-engage them will help employers address some of the biggest talent challenges they face today.