There's a critical need to ensure women and their talents continue to make the most impact in the workforce.
As author Sylvia Ann Hewlett puts it in her latest book, the "conventional white male career model" is not only unfair but counterproductive. With baby boomers ready to retire and global competitive pressures on the increase, the business case for retaining and enhancing women's contributions is stronger than ever.
Hewlett's work with the "Hidden Brain Drain Task Force"--a group representing 34 major global corporations--forms the framework of her new book, which contains what she calls a "core package" of essential practices and cutting-edge models for employers who want to maximize their female talent. These include:
Flexible work arrangements. Such policies as flextime, telecommuting, compressed workweeks, and job sharing are critical not just to accommodate family lives but also to retain key talent. "With jobs becoming more extreme, an increasing number of talented women will both want and need the ability to ramp down a little," Hewlett writes.
Arc-of-career flexibility. Unlike flexible work arrangements, this is a new concept--policies that allow women (and men) to step off the traditional career ladder of ever-growing responsibility and ever-harder work without running into barriers when they aim to "reattach." As the title of the book suggests, a key problem for many women has been their inability to find "on-ramps" to get back into careers after downshifting to address personal needs and goals.
Reimagining work-life. Most work-life efforts (such as child-care programs) focus too closely on the nuclear family, Hewlett says, reserving "the best benefits and finest support programs [for employees] who are married with young children. This doesn't work for half of all women." However, single and/or childless women often will have equally serious responsibilities for elder care and extended families.
Help women claim and sustain ambition. "An employer cannot promote a woman if she herself is not enormously vested in this endeavor," Hewlett writes, adding that many women downsize their own expectations for their careers upon confronting the challenges they face to achieve balance. Networking, mentoring and other avenues fordevelopment can offset this.