Whether a year or a decade after “opting out” of paid professional work to stay home with kids, some women are finding it harder than they thought it would be to opt back in. At the same time, a tough economy means fewer women have that choice to make. We check in on the decisions women are facing as they balance work and family life.


  • Judith Warner Senior fellow, Center for American Progress; author, “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety.”
  • Sylvia Ann Hewlett Founder and CEO, Center for Talent Innovation


  • 13:06:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. A decade ago, it seemed to be a trend. It was dubbed the opt out revolution, high powered career women stepping off the career track to stay home and raise their children. Others chose the mommy track, scaling back job ambitions or choosing part time work for more flexibility.

  • 13:07:15

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIA tough economy is making these choices riskier. And for many, opting back in to the workforce after a hiatus is turning out to be the biggest challenge of all. While for many others, full time work has never been a choice, but rather a necessity. Joining us in studio to discuss this is Judith Warner. She is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and the author of the bestselling book, "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety." She is a contributing writer for the New York Times magazine and Time.com. Judith Warner, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:07:49

    MS. JUDITH WARNERThanks for having me here.

  • 13:07:50

    NNAMDIAnd joining us from NPR's Bryant -- joining us from the Bryan Park Studios in New York is Sylvia Ann Hewlett. She is an economist and the founder and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation. That's a Manhattan based think tank. She's the author of "Off Ramps and On Ramps: Keeping Talented Women On the Road to Success." Her latest book is "Forget A Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast Track Your Career." Sylvia Ann Hewlett, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:19

    MS. SYLVIA ANN HEWLETTIt's great to be on today, Kojo.

  • 13:08:21

    NNAMDIThe challenge of balancing career and a family is an issue that's never really gone away, but it seems to be sparking more debate than ever. I'm thinking, for example, of the firestorm around Sheryl Sandberg's book, "Lean In." Why do you think this is such a contentious topic now, Judith Warner?

  • 13:08:39

    WARNERI think a lot of the time, the contention, the drama around these books and these issues stems from the fact of who the messengers are. In the case, let's say, of Sheryl Sandberg with "Lean In," or Anne-Marie Slaughter with her Atlantic cover, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," people tend to respond less to what the women are actually saying than who they are. And since they are highly educated, upper middle class, successful women, they themselves are kind of lightning rods for a lot of controversy and a lot of bad feeling.

  • 13:09:12

    NNAMDISylvia, you've looked at which women step out of the workforce and why. How many women off ramp, as you describe it in your book, and why? And feel free to answer the previous question that I directed to Judith.

  • 13:09:24

    HEWLETTWell, if you look right across the nation, as I've now done twice, and looked at all women with college degrees, which is obviously a vast number of people these days, you will find that in good times and bad, about a third of well qualified women will voluntarily take a short break. I'm not talking about the super elite, as Judith very rightly points out in her article a couple of months ago. You know, that's a whole different logic. But these are women who are taking what they see as a brief break. And 93% of them are, in one year we did the survey, 89% in the other year we did the survey, really both want to get back in and need to.

  • 13:10:09

    HEWLETTBecause, get what? You know, women are incredibly critical, these days, as breadwinners in their families. And what we find is that there are tremendous penalties attached to this relatively brief time out, because the average amount of time out is less than three years. We find that, you know, only 73% of them land a job at the time they want it. And only 40% get back on track in terms of a full paying, full time job in a field that they want to be in.

  • 13:10:44

    HEWLETTSo, you know, clearly this on ramping business is tough. It got harder after the 2008, 2009 recession. And I think women are very much taken aback at how tough it can be. If you are out three years, you lose about 30% of your earning power permanently. I mean, it's a pretty big figure.

  • 13:11:06

    NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Did you make a choice to stay at home to care for your kids? What was your experience? Did you return to work after opting out? What was your experience getting back into the workforce? 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org or send us a tweet at kojoshow. Sylvia, I got the impression that I interrupted you.

  • 13:11:30

    HEWLETTWell, you know, the last thing I wanted to say -- it's not all bad news. One of the things I'm discovering in this new book I'm doing on sponsorship is that sponsors are an extraordinary resource. Not only do they help you get promoted and help you lean in, to use the language of this year, but they also ensure you're the last fired in a restructuring. And you're also the first hired if you're back on the job market after a break.

  • 13:12:00

    HEWLETTSo, this ability of women to find themselves sponsorship is critical. But again, only half as many women half sponsors as men, and for African Americans, for instance, it's an even lower number. Many of us don't come from sponsor rich environments, but I am finding this is an incredibly powerful key in landing that job if you've taken a break, if you have off ramped for a while.

  • 13:12:25

    NNAMDILet's talk a little bit more about leaning in. You've said that in their 20's, women are leaning in, that there's no difference between men and women at that age in terms of professional achievement.

  • 13:12:34


  • 13:12:35

    NNAMDIWhat happens when they reach their 30's?

  • 13:12:39

    HEWLETTWell, you know, women aren't masochists. And, you know, if you hit your head against enough brick walls, you start downsizing your dreams. I think, you know, everyone is aware of the fact that progress has stalled for women. You know, there's a lot of us that get stuck in the middle reaches of careers. And again, you know, we find that the culprit here is that men are very relentless in their pursuit of a senior champion who really will tap them on the shoulder and groom them for a senior slot.

  • 13:13:11

    HEWLETTWomen don't tend to find sponsors. And it is the biggest explainer of why women, in fact, get stuck, and downsize their dreams. It's very central, this business of sponsorship.

  • 13:13:25

    NNAMDIHowever Judith, it also seems that the decision to opt out of the work force also has to do with how expectations of mothers and motherhood have changed over the past few decades. Can you talk about that?

  • 13:13:37

    WARNERI think that's true. And I think that's particularly true for the population that I have focused on with this article necessarily. And also, in fact, Sylvia's population, even though they're less of an elite group. And just to come back again to how important it is to delineate what population this is. In order to have the ability to opt out, you have to have the ability not to go under financially, which means that you have a certain level of resources.

  • 13:14:02

    WARNERAnd I think that, just coming back to your first question about why this is such a hot topic that attracts so much passion. Most women don't have choices, so being confronted with the angst of those who do can be very frustrating. And for those who do have choices and who believe, who very much believed, particularly the current generation, of women who we're talking about, really believed that they had unfettered choice. And being confronted then, in mid-life, with the fact that they're choices are restricted, even this most privileged group, is very painful to confront.

  • 13:14:34

    WARNERAnd, you know, this group, this privileged group, has also tended to subscribe most strongly to the most demanding ideas of motherhood that are current in our culture. You know, these sort of demands for perfect motherhood get worse the higher up you go up the income spectrum. So they have it kind of coming from both ends, these very high demands.

  • 13:14:52

    NNAMDISylvia, how have you seen parenting change?

  • 13:14:56

    HEWLETTI think that we not only have extreme jobs, we have extreme parenting these days. It's as though we've kind of upped the ante on both fronts and I totally agree with Judith that one reason that this is so painful for many of us is that if your kids go to a school, for instance, where there are a bunch of attachment parenting mothers, they kind of create a bar for everyone, which is almost impossible to clear.

  • 13:15:26

    HEWLETTBut, you know, just to explain a little bit of what I mean by extreme jobs and extreme parenting, you know, the numbers of hours required by a professional job has leapt 15 hours a week over the last couple of decades. It really is harder to hang on to a professional job and have that second child and deal with a, you know, elder care crisis, than it was for our older sisters. It's not because we're wimps or somehow have lost our edge. And that overload on the work front, or the expansion of jobs, and of course, technology has allowed that.

  • 13:16:07

    WARNERBecause our bosses and our colleagues can get at us on Sunday morning as well as Friday afternoon. But along with that, there has been this upping of the anti around parenting. Maybe it has something to do with much smaller families. Maybe it's the self actualization that, you know, we all create for ourselves. There's a lot of reasons behind it that Judith has written about very eloquently. But it surely is there.

  • 13:16:33

    HEWLETTI mean, I almost cringe at the list that we look at when we describe the life of one of these super elite women who have off ramped. You know, the cooking from scratch, the tremendously elaborate catering to the extracurricular life of your child. The construction of those baby books for all of the in-laws. I mean, Judith makes this, which, you know, makes us all feel guilty. And, of course, we're not sure that any of it really works. But I think it has created a tremendous amount anxiety around just the standards out there.

  • 13:17:13

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Sylvia Ann Hewlett. She's an Economist and the founder and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation, a Manhattan based think tank. Her latest book is "Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast Track Your Career." Joining us in studio is Judith Warner. She's a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and the author of the bestselling, "Perfect Madness: Motherhood In the Age of Anxiety." Judy?

  • 13:17:37

    WARNERI just wanted to add on to something that Sylvia just said. She has written so well about the nature of extreme jobs and how they've taken off over recent decades. And how more and more high achieving people, men and women alike, are caught in them, and in the attitudes toward work that surround them. And I would just say that the women I interviewed for this article, about two dozen of them, had as well what we might call extreme self demands. These are women who can't give up anything.

  • 13:18:07

    WARNERThey can't lower their expectations for themselves in any realm. And this, as much as many other factors having to do with economics, having to do with the nature of their jobs or the nature of their marriages, also has a tendency to drive them out. And it's something I think we need to talk about and lead more women to call into question.

  • 13:18:27

    NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Here now is Keta Yuhn in Silver Spring, Maryland. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:18:33

    KETAThank you. My question is really about how we can move beyond the conversation about individual women or men, frankly, and their achievement of leadership, and really talk about the kind of sort of community supports that we need to see to make, you know, folks be able to be very successful. I think, in my own example, I was in a corporate PR job for the last few years, and was sort of making it work with a toddler. And then my mother, who's elderly, got sick, and I became her caretaker as well.

  • 13:19:08

    KETAAnd I found it was just really impossible to balance a really high achieving job and be a caretaker on both ends. And while I didn't leave the workforce, I actually took a step back and took a nonprofit job where I had a lot more flexibility. So, I was wondering if your guests could sort of address, you know, where we can move as a society to just provide more support so that men and women can have these caretaker roles and also achieve in the careers.

  • 13:19:35

    NNAMDIJudith Warner?

  • 13:19:35

    WARNERI have a lot of thoughts about this because this is precisely what I'm working on now at the Center for American Progress. We need a changed work culture. We need a work culture that does not value overwork and time macho. This work culture that we have now, which has been worsened by the anxieties of the great recession and its aftermath, has just created a situation in which people are having to do the impossible, particularly as regards balancing work and family.

  • 13:20:02

    WARNERAnd you can't change that unilaterally. You can't just say that women are somehow going to make different decisions because that's, on the one hand, impossible. And on the other hand, really separates them out from the main stream success track and guarantees that they're not going to rise to leadership positions. So it has to be more overarching. And as a society generally, we need policy that encodes those differences in attitudes and that different attitude toward work in particular.

  • 13:20:32

    WARNERYou know, we need paid family leave which particularly will help lower income, men and women. But also puts into place then a statement of value that we value workers as people who have family responsibilities as well. And we also need to find some way to guarantee the right to flexibility for all, a flexibility that works to protect employees rather than employers.

  • 13:20:58

    NNAMDISylvia, you have also written about how daughter track women often have to opt out as kidaundas (sp?) to take care of elderly parents, too.

  • 13:21:07

    HEWLETTExactly. You know, 24 percent of women who take a break do it for reasons of elder care, not child care. And I do think we need to remember that. And one thing, the private sector is actually expanding enormously -- Citibank is case in point -- is really offering many more options in terms of resources to help you on that front. And they're making it very deliberately gender neutral. Because the good thing about elder care is that it's a little more gender spread in terms of the burden than child care.

  • 13:21:44

    HEWLETTBut to get back to Judith's first point, you know, I really do wish that we as a society were heading towards the kind of institutional change -- societal change that you so well described. But, you know, think of the reality in Washington. I was part of a group that was pulled together for Obama's second term, which was focused on women's empowerment and women's economic welfare. And all of these topics were obviously on the table, things like paid parenting leave, which I testified on behalf of three different times.

  • 13:22:23

    HEWLETTWe were told that the only initiatives that they wanted to talk about were ones that required no money or no legislative action because they didn't feel either were possible. So, you know, what I've been doing in terms of my efforts over the last nine years is working with employers in both the not-for-profit and the for-profit sector because at least at that level you can hope to drive some change this year or next year. And, you know, change is not off a decade because I don't think that government is, you know, going to turn around on this front.

  • 13:23:05

    HEWLETTAnd one thing I do want to say is that this strategy of figuring out who in your workplace could become your champion, understand your value and go to bat for you is the way to make important changes at the margin in your life. We find that requests for flextime, for instance, are much more likely to fly if you've got a senior person on your side. And on the same note, you know, I think that flexibility is probably the most powerful need of working parents, be they men or women.

  • 13:23:42

    HEWLETTI mean, in all our data we show that, you know, 75 percent of struggling parents see that as the most critical thing in terms of making (unintelligible) ...

  • 13:23:51

    NNAMDIAnd, Judy, you've written that there's a real divide between those who have flexibility in their work and those who don't. More men than woman have flexibility. How come?

  • 13:24:02

    WARNERWell, they tend to be better paid. They tend to be in higher up positions. And the divide is also between those who are in high-powered positions and those who are in low wage, low status jobs. You know, a fair number of people in white-collar jobs -- not as many as there should be -- but the people in our country who have flexibility are the people who are better off already. And men, of course, are higher paid and higher status in the workplace.

  • 13:24:28

    WARNERYou know, the huge problem is for low-wage workers who have no access to flexibility. And as Sylvia was speaking -- and I agree completely in what she was saying about finding -- making the changes you can make and finding sponsors who can help you. But if you're a low-wage worker in an unskilled job, easily replaceable, let's say, and with poor English language skills, how do you find someone to advocate for you?

  • 13:24:54

    HEWLETTYou're right. And I think that a conversation, you know, needs to focus on one of these demographics because clearly, you know, professional women isn't where we started. The low wage, you know, non-English speaking or, you know, immigrant population are totally different kind of issue. And trade unionism is a pretty fabulous vehicle for some segments of that population. But I do think that imagining that, you know, government is somehow going to be our savior is probably unrealistic right now.

  • 13:25:30

    HEWLETTAnd that -- I'm sorry.

  • 13:25:30

    NNAMDIWell, but isn't the whole notion of imagining what government should be what drives activism?

  • 13:25:38

    WARNERI think that's true and I also know that currently we are seeing progress on the state level. We're seeing paid family leave legislation passing in a number of states. We've seen right-to-request provisions pass in Vermont and now in San Francisco. All of this is very small of course, but it was this kind of local action that led finally to the FMLA, also to minimum wage laws. So, yes, it takes a long time but it's better than nothing. And I think these conversations have to happen together because if they don't then it's very easy for the public and for people who oppose all of this change to say, this is just a rich woman's conversation.

  • 13:26:19

    NNAMDIHere now is Annie in Washington, D.C. Annie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:26:23

    ANNIEHi. This is really speaking to me. I just went back to work in the end of August after having my first child. And I was just talking with another mom friend who works, with her. And I said, it sounds antiquated but we almost with it were the 1950s again where all I had to do was manage the home and my baby because I just feel like the pressure is to do everything. And there are just not enough hours in the day to do it all. And who would've ever thought, you know, that I would ever say that. But that's what the reality has become.

  • 13:26:55

    NNAMDIWell, I'm glad you said it, Annie, because the term opt out revolution was coined a decade ago. Is it tougher, Sylvia, today to make the choice to step off the career track and why?

  • 13:27:08

    HEWLETTIt is. I mean, the data show that fewer women are doing it, although they would like to. The data also show how unhappy men are with this situation. I was very moved by the description in Judith's recent work of the -- was it Ted and his wife Kwai (sp?) ?

  • 13:27:29

    WARNERYes, Kwai.

  • 13:27:30

    HEWLETTKwai, right. Now Ted, who thought that he'd made a deal with his wife, you know, when they got married 27 years ago, that they would be equal in terms of both love and work and that they would contribute kind of 50/50 even Steven to the household, to the child care, to everything. Well, she took an off ramp and had a rather wonderfully, you know, volunteer role for 13 years I think. And he felt quite disgruntled because he, you know, was locked into then, you know, providing for the entire household. And also he was trying to, you know, keep up with their deal and actually deliver on some of the chores and the child care and everything else.

  • 13:28:15

    HEWLETTAnd, you know, it's fascinating if you look at the data around what men think when their wives off ramp. And you can do this with various income groups and it seems to be true of, you know, blue collar workers as well as professionals. This is the data. About 40 percent of men feel that it's pretty great that someone is creating a quality of life at home. And there's just more attention for things that matter in terms of building values and an enjoyable life.

  • 13:28:44

    NNAMDIGoing to have to...

  • 13:28:45

    HEWLETTTwenty percent of men on the other hand are deeply resentful because they get to, you know, work a second shift or, you know, do an extra job or if they're a professional, just have a more extreme job. And they really resent the idea that they do not get any of the goodies. They don't get the time with the kids or the time to discover themselves. So I think it's a deeply divisive thing between men and women as well as causing all of the anxiety we were talking about earlier.

  • 13:29:15

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. We'll continue this conversation when we come back on the issue of women stepping out of the workforce and attempting to step back in. You can still call us at 800-433-8850 or send your email to kojo@wamu.org. We are, of course, in the middle of our fall membership campaign. That's what we'll be talking about when we come back. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:37:00

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about women stepping off of the workforce and returning. We're talking with Sylvia Ann Hewlett. She's an economist and the founder and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation, a Manhattan-based think tank. Her latest book is called "Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career." She joins us from Bryant Park studios in New York. Joining us in our Washington studio is Judith Warner, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of the Bestselling book, "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety."

  • 13:37:33

    NNAMDIJudy, we've referenced on several occasions the piece you wrote recently for the New York Times about what happened to several women who opted out ten years after leaving their high-powered career. You found that in many cases they want to return to the workforce. What are some of the issues they're facing?

  • 13:37:49

    WARNERWell, there are issues frequently of a loss of self confidence. Once they've been out of the workforce it's hard somehow to envision how to get back in and what they can do. And even sometimes who they are. You know, and it depends once again on what population you're talking about. What I found was that the sort of elite of the elite, the most well off women with the most, let's say, social capital who had the sort of highest level connections, who had the most prestigious looking resumes for example, got back in pretty easily.

  • 13:38:21

    WARNERPart of the reason they got back in easily was because their resumes were so good. A bigger part of the reason was that they had these incredible contacts, so they were able to just sort of float the idea, put out a few phone calls and find something. And a big part of the reason was that they didn't really need to make money. So if they went back to jobs that were more flexible, let's say, that were closer to their interests that allowed them to still have the kind of more pleasant lifestyle that they wanted, it just wasn't that hard because it didn't matter if they were taking a serious hit salary wise.

  • 13:38:52

    WARNERIt was a lot harder if women really needed to make money. You know, if they needed to really be contributing to the family income in a significant way. if they were, for example, divorced or divorcing. And so for the same reason needed to be breadwinners, things got a whole lot harder.

  • 13:39:10

    NNAMDISylvia, what kinds of professional penalties are there for women who step out of the workforce?

  • 13:39:16

    HEWLETTThey're pretty huge. Not only do they find it hard to actually get a job -- again I said earlier, only 40 percent who are seeking jobs find fulltime jobs -- but you take a big hit in terms of seniority and pay. You're out two years, you lose 18 percent. You're out three, you lose 28 percent. It just creeps up. But, you know, here's a huge learning. It's much better to step back than step out. You can recover from that much more easily.

  • 13:39:50

    HEWLETTSo one thing -- one of the big insights of the new work is that in 95 percent of cases, when we interviewed women who just left their jobs and severed their employment, 67 percent of them would've liked to have stayed in a part time or much reduced time slot, , but they did not think it was available, and they didn't even ask.

  • 13:40:18


  • 13:40:18

    HEWLETTWe then talked to the employer...

  • 13:40:19

    NNAMDIOh, go ahead.

  • 13:40:20

    HEWLETT...and it turns out that many of them could have gotten that had they asked, because they'd been at work on average nine years. Many of them were valued employees, but they didn't understand that you can actually ask for things are not necessarily on the books. And, you know, these days I'm working with 75 big employers. Together they employ five million people. And so, you know, if they're open to these conversations, guess what, you know, there is more fluidity or flexibility in what is available out there than we sometimes think.

  • 13:40:54

    HEWLETTBut it is a staggering figure that, you know, two-thirds of them would have preferred to have stepped way back than to step out because they were scared about what it would do to their earning power and to their ability to get back in.

  • 13:41:08

    NNAMDIJudy, do any of the women...

  • 13:41:09

    HEWLETTAnd they didn't ask.

  • 13:41:11

    NNAMDIDo any of the women that you spoke with regret having left their jobs?

  • 13:41:16

    WARNERYes. The women I spoke with who had gotten divorced regretted it -- just plain regretted it. They didn't regret the extra time with their children. They were always glad for that, and, I mean, that was a universal. Every single woman was glad for the time she was able to spend with her children, but the ones who found themselves really needing to make money and really needing to have autonomy and independence and to be empowered, let's say, really felt that they had made a mistake in letting all of that go.

  • 13:41:43

    WARNERAnd just adding onto what Sylvia just said, you know, I agree completely, and I'm so glad that she has the hard numbers to back this up. And one of the issues that I found in talking to the smaller group of women of course who I interviewed, is that they didn't ask in part a lot of the time because they didn't want to contemplate the reduced role that would come from stepping back, from taking a part-time position or taking a lower status position. They didn't ask because it was for them. Given their personalities, it was all or nothing.

  • 13:42:20

    NNAMDIOnto Andrea in Bethesda, Md. Andrea, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:42:26

    ANDREAGood afternoon. I'm a scientist at the National Institutes of Health, and I do feel like there's not really an option for me to opt out for a few years if I was to have children because in the very competitive world of science, there's high pressure to publish, and a gap on your publishing record would not be looked upon positively if I was to come back after taking two or three years for my children. So I do feel like there is not really that option for me to opt out.

  • 13:42:59

    NNAMDIYou raise a very interesting question. Both Judith and Sylvia Ann Hewlett, what are the prospects of a woman such as Andrea being able to pick up where she left off?

  • 13:43:10

    HEWLETTWell, again, you know, I think we sometimes underestimate the imagination of employers, particularly if you've got a good relationship with your boss or any senior person. They will go to bat for you. I'll give you an example. Stanford, you know, fairly recently put in place an extended period under which a woman with say a new child could be considered for tenure because it was accepted that maybe for two, three years, she would not publish.

  • 13:43:37

    HEWLETTIf you can create a framework which just gives you a longer runway if you'd like to tread water for a while and, you know, do the immediate demands of your job, but not do the extra publishing, it is a real life changer for your profession.

  • 13:43:54

    NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt for a second to ask Andrea how feasible do you think that would be for you at NIH?

  • 13:44:00

    ANDREAI haven't even considered that an option because, you know, I'm a very driven scientist and -- but I guess I would have to sort that with my superiors.

  • 13:44:12


  • 13:44:13

    WARNERAnd, you know, it's interesting what Andrea just said. I mean, you know, saying it out loud in that way. I just wanted to say too though, I was about to back off having said so strongly having put this on the backs of the women themselves. I mean, clearly that's part of it, but also what I was hearing is that even when -- let's say in the case of the first woman who leads off the article, Sheila O'Donnell, that she took a reduced scheduled and it wasn't worth it because the way things were playing out, she was marginalized, meetings were scheduled specifically on the days when she wasn't going to be there.

  • 13:44:49

    WARNERShe was working very, very hard, still earning less money, and above all, still super stressed. So there's this kind of cost benefit analysis often that these women make, and it just doesn't add up to be worth it.

  • 13:45:03

    HEWLETTBut you see, Judith, it shows the need to create change among employers, right? Because they are directly the folks that can, you know, flex the rules. And what we find is that, you know, I started this task force of employers ten years ago. There was seven companies that joined at the beginning. Now there are 75. And we have, you know, parts of the UN and the Cleveland Clinic, and parts of the government, you know, as well as private employers, and what I find is that there's been a huge update in some of these more experimental, much more flexible arrangements because they're good for the bottom line.

  • 13:45:44

    HEWLETTNo one wants to really lose a valued employee. And it makes an enormous amount of difference. So I do think that this is, you know, very fruitful territory. And to take the case you gave of the, you know, that first woman you interviewed for your article, it's fascinating. If she had been working at say Ernst & Young, a very big company that employees, you know, hundreds -- really, hundreds of thousands of women, she as a part-time professional would have been given sponsor/mentor-like person who would have watched her career. They're called career watchers.

  • 13:46:27

    HEWLETTAnd what happens in that company is that a high-performing person who goes to say a three-day week, is not railroaded into the third-best clients. They continue to get their proportion of great because basically you can't shine and you're not going to keep motivated if you just get the dog cases. And they instituted this at Ernst & Young some eight years ago, and as a result they've now got part-time partners. So I'm not trying to say that this is so common, but it is happening, and the trick here is to spread it round because it could make a huge difference to the ability of very able women to feel that it's worth the candle, that it's, you know, worth trying to, you know, dial back for awhile because life is long.

  • 13:47:18

    HEWLETTYou've got 35 more years to be a professional, and you obviously, in most cases, really do need the money, and you need to contribute to your life and, you know, everyone else's.

  • 13:47:29


  • 13:47:30

    WARNERAnd I would just add on that the work that you're doing, that you're seeing these companies do, really needs to be publicized, and the best practices have to be made publicly available so that other companies can be aware of what there is to do and what works, and also so that employees have ideas of what to ask for and what can work.

  • 13:47:49

    NNAMDIAndrea, thank you very much for you call. We move onto Melissa in Washington DC. Melissa, your turn.

  • 13:47:55

    MELISSAOh, hi. Yes. So I stay at home and I work part time caring for my six-month-old twins, and I'm considering going back into the workforce full time when they're about a year. So I have about six months left to go. And my question is, I'm right now feeling some -- worrying about my prospects for getting back into the work force. So I'm curious, how can I really enjoy this time without being preoccupied about what's going to happen down the road?

  • 13:48:22

    NNAMDISylvia Ann?

  • 13:48:25

    HEWLETTAgain, there's lots of great tips out there in terms of how to ease your anxiety by maximizing your chance of getting back in. And since you will have taken a short off-ramp, right, there's no reason why it shouldn't be fairly, you know, painless. So here are the tips. Keep your networks going, whether it's the college and alumni association, even, you know, the PTA or any involvement you have in the community that involves skills that can translate to a resume, whether it's managing or fundraising or some hard skills. Maybe, you know, putting in an amazing new tech platform for, you know, some charity you're involved in, et cetera.

  • 13:49:16

    HEWLETTAnd this is an extraordinary investment, because again, our data show, and this is, you know, across a big data set, that if you build those skills in your volunteer activities and probably, you know, it's hard to do that given the fact you've got, you know, two small babies, but just see it as an investment, you know, in a great job possibility just down the road. And if you wed that to staying at work, don't let your network go cold. That is, you know, the kiss of death in terms of both competence and your ability to make those phone calls which will greatly ease your way back in.

  • 13:49:55

    HEWLETTAnd I think once you start doing those two things, you will feel much more secure that it will happen for you rather painlessly.

  • 13:50:04

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Laura in Shepherdstown, West Va., who said, "I think that women and men who opt to stay at home with children as I have done, face a tremendous uphill battle to get back into the workplace and work and earn a living as they did before they chose to stay at home. In addition to not contributing to an IRA, not keeping up with technological trends, I find myself now far away from many career opportunities because we moved out of Washington DC to be able to afford a house.

  • 13:50:31

    NNAMDI"It's disheartening to think that I have given up future financial strength with no guarantee really that my children will be any more adaptable, happier, better educated, or balanced than my friends' children who grew up with nannies." Judy, what do you say to that? That seems to be the examples of the extreme parenting and extreme working conflict that you were talking about.

  • 13:50:53

    WARNERI don't know. At the same time it just sounds like real life. I mean, this is a family who are faced with the impossibly high real estate prices in Washington DC, chose to live somewhere calmer, prettier, with less wretched weather, and, you know, more affordable housing. So I don't know that that's necessarily an example of extreme parenting. I mean, it strikes as in many ways about a choice.

  • 13:51:14

    NNAMDII was thinking about the comparison of her friends' children who grew up with nannies.

  • 13:51:20

    WARNERI think that we tend to put all sorts of pressures and forms of guilt on ourselves, and I don't think there's any science to indicate that children who are raised one way or the other do any better or worse. And, you know, I just think that what the listener has expressed are the worries that so many women in this position feel, and the economy has played a very big role in shutting down the choices that are out there, and I feel for this listener. I really do.

  • 13:51:55

    NNAMDIAllow me to go to Carol in Bethesda, Md. Carol, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:52:01

    CAROLHi Kojo. I'm hoping to see you at the shindig.

  • 13:52:04

    NNAMDII hope to be there.

  • 13:52:05

    CAROLI know you will. Ironically, I used to run the child care center at NIH many years ago, in response to that young lady who said -- was working -- dealing with her scientific career, and that was the reason we got the child care center because so many women scientists, way back in the old days of the seventies, were trying to press for equal opportunity, and that was the only way they could get it. And believe it, at that time they only started with two year olds. Right now, you know, most of their centers include infants, and how important it is for these scientists to go back when their children are very young.

  • 13:52:42

    CAROLThat's the way they compete, and I think your speakers give very good ideas for how they could try alternatively to stay in the workplace and compete with their male colleagues. But I think the child care is absolutely the most important thing. But the reason I called is, I'm an example of a woman who stayed home for four years with my kids. I was a teacher. I didn't want to go back to teaching when I had to return to work due to divorce. And so I chose a job, ironically at first as a receptionist in a law firm so I wouldn't have to have much pressure on me. How could I teach with two young children as well at home.

  • 13:53:20

    CAROLSo after a year I was so bored, and I was so restricted, and that issue of flexibility was so much of an issue for me, that I felt I needed to take on something else, and I went for a directorship at a daycare center. And they asked me well, what kind of skills do you have? I said, I managed a home on X dollars a year, and I didn't go broke. They said, okay, I think we can hire you to manage a $90,000 budget, aside from my skills as an early childhood person.

  • 13:53:47

    NNAMDISo you got hired as essentially household manager?

  • 13:53:51

    CAROLExactly. And I was at the National Organization for Women at that time had been encouraging people, just as one of your speakers had just said, that you should really look at your skills that you acquire as a household manager.

  • 13:54:05

    NNAMDIWe’re running out of time very quickly. Judy -- Judith Warner, what does that story say to you?

  • 13:54:09

    WARNERIt tells me that everyone's story is different. Some people, I think, just end up being luckier than others. I think that it's very useful for us to have Sylvia's data, you know, to have interviewed so many thousands of women and now to be working with such a wide range of employers, we're able to hear what the trends are on a large scale because it's so easy to get caught in anecdote, and the anecdotes are telling, and yet without the larger data, we really can't give any kind of valid roadmap to women who are asking themselves these questions.

  • 13:54:44

    NNAMDIJudith Warner is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the author of the best selling "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety." She's a contributing writer for the New York Times magazine and Time.com. Thank you for joining us.

  • 13:54:55

    WARNERThanks for having me.

  • 13:54:56

    NNAMDISylvia Ann Hewlett is an economist and the founder and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation. Her latest book is called "Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast Track Your Career." Sylvia Ann Hewlett, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:55:10

    HEWLETTIt was a great conversation. Thank you, Kojo.

  • 13:55:12

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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