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Friday, May 12, 2006

Bumpy off-ramp for moms. A new study conducted by the Wharton School found that mothers lose 37% of their earning power if they take three or more years off work. A story on NPR's Marketplace reported on the survey and interviewed Wharton researcher Monica McGrath. Here's part of the story:

SARAH GARDNER: When professional women consider taking a time-out to raise children, they often soothe themselves with the oft-told story of Brenda Barnes. Barnes, the legend goes, quit her job as head of PepsiCo's North American operation to spend more time with her kids. She returned triumphantly to the workforce six years later as the number two exec at Sara Lee. She's now CEO. Margot Diamond of Carrollton, Texas, says she kept thinking about Barnes during a job interview a couple years ago.

MARGOT DIAMOND: And they're like, "Well, you do know it's not a 9-to-5 job and you have kids. And will your husband help with your kids, and will you be allowed to travel? It's like . . . I'm sure this woman didn't have to deal with these questions when she went back to her job.

When mere mortals such as Diamond exit the career track to be with their kids, ramping back ON can be a bumpy ride. Even though Diamond had traveled the globe as a garment industry executive before taking a four-year timeout, prospective employers hesitated. She, in turn, prevaricated.

DIAMOND: It's almost like from "Desperate Housewives" when Lynette went back to work. I mean, you completely have to say, Yes, I'm very cold now and I really don't like my children as much now that I've been at home with them.

Diamond did manage to find another executive position in the apparel industry but she considers herself lucky. A recent study from the Wharton School and the Forte Foundation found that a majority of moms who return to work end up changing jobs, companies and even entire industries, often at lesser pay. Wharton's Monica McGrath:

MONICA MCGRATH: When they left the workforce they felt positive. When they attempted to come back, however, those positive feelings were changed.

Forty-five percent of the women in the Wharton survey, most of them MBA's, ended up starting their own businesses. Others went to work for smaller companies that McGrath assumes were willing to be more flexible about work schedules. McGrath says the women who tried to return to their former positions, or something similar, hit a wall.

MCGRATH: Many of them felt that they'd be willing to work in a lower level position to sort of "prove themselves" because they understood that organizations may not want to take a chance on them if they've been out for over two years. But they weren't even getting an opportunity to get in a full-time position at a lower level.

I would like to see a survey on dads who take a two-year leave and them come back. There probably aren't enough available to make a statistically accurate survey. There's no easy solution to this problem. If a woman can't negotiate a better contract with her employer, she may want to discuss options with her husband. Any man that marries a woman with an MBA and major corporate ambitions should be prepared to look at working part time. We need more social support for Stay At Home Dads. For more information on SAHDs, see the always entertaining Rebeldad site.

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