Management Inefficiencies

Today’s WSJ has a front-page article (subscription only) about women who return to paid work after taking years off to raise children. The women profiled in the article are having a tough time.

Some of these women may have unrealistic expectations. They want to resume their careers at their old pay and responsibility levels, but they seem not to understand that the business world changes rapidly and that career skills decay if not maintained. People who want to remain employable at a high level, even if they already have jobs, have to keep learning and updating their skills. (The article’s example of an ex-securities trader who took 14 years off to raise kids, and wants another finance job but goes to an interview without being familiar with current industry terminology, is telling.)

(And of course there’s bias in the selection of the women interviewed for the article. The writer didn’t interview women who had kept up their career skills and found jobs easily. Nor does she give more than passing recognition to societal changes that create other options besides conventional employment. Surely there are now more instances than ever of mothers who, upon returning to the work force and finding conventional options wanting, make their own opportunities by starting businesses, telecommuting or otherwise taking advantage of new technology.)

But another thing struck me about this issue, and that was the attitude of some of the people who do the hiring.

Many women quit work in their 30s, prime career-building years. By the time they think about going back, they’re into their 40s, or older. Women like this “are going to have to be a little realistic — they don’t have the perfect package,” says Kevin Ryan, CEO of DoubleClick, a New York computer company. “They’re going to have to take a step back” from the salaries and positions they left.

That’s one way to look at it. Another way is to realize that good people who lack recent job experience can be trained, and that mature but out-of-practice workers may be bargains for employers. The reluctance of some managers to hire competent women who are returning to the work force creates opportunity for employers who are more flexible, and for the people they hire.

5 thoughts on “Management Inefficiencies”

  1. “…may be bargains for employers.”

    Not necessarily a bargain you can realise the value of as an employer.

    If you hire one of these women and she successfully reintegrates into her profession then just a year later, not long at all after she’s up to speed, her market value will be re-established. Either you pay her a lot more or she will be off to another job.

    Against this, some of them will not work out – that cost falls to the employer.

    No judgment here on their capabilities, these are just facts of life.

  2. On-job training was easier to justify when jobs were stickier, folk stayed years to earn their pensions, etc. As JK points out, now it is more of a commons problem.

    During the bubble, the IT/Software industry was paying people to be trained, particularly in MS skills. You could get major reimbursements on your class and certification fees, non-vacation time off from work to do the classes, etc. Now comapanies seem to hire based on your already having the particular skills they want.

    So training is a non-wage benefit and varies with the business cycle. I wonder how different the article would look written in 1998 or 2008 at the other end of the cycle.

    Matya no baka

  3. Tell me about it, everyone.

    That’s me, but I also really don’t want to go back and do what I did before – secretary. For some odd reason, less stress raising my daughter at this time. Talk to me when she’s 13.

    So, I’m thinking about getting a useless degree in the future.

  4. I’m no management guru, but, why would you hire someone who has been out of the marker for years, when, in the current economy, you most likely could hire a younger, up-to-date employee or promote an employee that has been in the game for the 14 or whatever years that person was off? Assumption: the person did not keep up skills.

  5. Because in many positions maturity is worth something, and unlike technical skills is difficult to instill through training.

    Besides, I am not arguing that employers offer returning workers the same wages as workers with current skills. I am arguing that employers should not write people off who have done good work in the past but lack recent skills. Some of these people would be bargains for employers. People don’t go bad merely because they are away from the 9-to-5 world for a few years.

    Another point that just occurred to me, that is very politically incorrect, is that women who have already raised children are not likely to leave the work force to raise children again.

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