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.