Non-Linear Path to the Off-Ramp

Among many wonderful things about yesterday, one, for me personally, was learning of the new book out by Dr. Sylvia Ann Hewlett called “Off-Ramps and On-Ramps.” I first noticed her interview on the “Today” show but didn’t have a chance to really pay attention. Then I read the piece about her new book in yesterday’s New York Times, in Kotkin’s column titled “Opening the On-Ramp for Women.”

And if you didn’t see it, I’d urge you to read it:  http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/05/business/05shelf.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Several things struck me about this piece. And some of you might be wondering why I’m blogging about the very thing I’ve sworn off – the repeated and generally non-news circulating through the media about women off-ramping and how companies need to get with the times. But again – a few things about this piece struck me.

First, this statement about Hewlett’s book:

“Dr. Hewlett brings to bear a great deal of evidence to support her contention that professional women are held back by an outdated career model designed for white men with wives at home.”

It really strikes a chord with me as it feels like my own professional reality. I am constantly aware of the fact that my colleagues around me might have children but that many of them also have wives at home.  Meanwhile I am the wife. And I’d love to have a wife at home but I don’t. It’s me. And so – we can talk until we’re blue in the fact about the need for “equality among the staff” but the reality is, the demands on me are different than the demands on my male counterparts. Therefore, I don’t think the need for “equality among the staff” is anything but antiquated. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that if my workplace wants to keep me for many more years, then there needs to be the recognition that the quality of work I produce is more valued than the amount of hours I am physically in the office.

And then there is the closing comments of the article that stuck with me all day. I chewed on it a while, then I shared the comment with my ever-practical accountant husband, then I later shared it with my sister over dinner. There’s nothing quite like a potent analogy to really get you thinking so here it is:

“If a $2,000 desktop computer disappears from an employee’s desk, I guarantee that there’ll be an investigation,” Maury Hanigan, a consultant, tells Dr. Hewlett, adding that “if a $100,000-a-year executive with all kinds of client relationships” quits “to stay home with the kids — there’s no investigation.”

Can anyone have said it better than Ms. Hanigan? I mean – hello and thank you Ms. Hanigan. What a brilliant and poignant analogy she makes in a nice concise sentence.

Will anyone conduct an investigation in my office when I decide to off-ramp for more time with my children? I don’t think so. But Hanigan is right, there would be countless hours spent on determing the theft of my desktop computer if it happened.

I know that I’m a valued highly skilled worker, as are my friends. Our IT guy can go anywhere to replace my computer but I know – I definitely do not lack any confidence – in this – I know that my skillset cannot be replaced that easily. And yet, not a thing is being done to accomodate the needs of managing work with children to keep me here.

And so, Hewlett points out that fully 60% of highly skilled females off-ramp for a time. The distinction is – do they necessarily want to – or if more options were given to them, would they stick around? I would. I haven’t quite reached the off-ramp yet, but I’m headed there faster and faster each day.

One Response to Non-Linear Path to the Off-Ramp
  1. Carol Fishman Cohen
    August 7, 2007 | 5:57 am

    You may also want to check out Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work (Warner Books June 2007), which provides a strategic plan for those at home who want to resume their careers. See http://www.backonthecareertrack.com for more information.

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