Leaders take notice: a crisis is brewing.
Today, U.S. businesses are losing some of their very best talent – educated, experienced women – in what may be the largest talent drain ever.
Why? The balance of work and family, for many, is exacting too high a price.
Statistics indicate a disturbing trend that those abandoning their careers are largely high-achieving women, whose jobs tend to demand longer hours, who carry more responsibility and whose absence arguably makes the greatest impact on business. Whether they are pushed away by an unforgiving work environment or pulled away by the lure of family life, one thing is clear: for high-achieving women, life balance is becoming an increasing impossibility.
Business women play a special role in addressing this issue. Because we understand the issue so intimately – whether directly through our own experiences or indirectly through the women around us-we can consciously make an effort to pave the way for a healthier approach to success that honors career and quality of life. The well-being of businesses and the women within them are at stake.
What can be done to retain talented women? Many prominent solutions include company wide policy changes, such as paid parenting leave, flexible workdays, job sharing, and telecommuting. Unfortunately, many such choices are stigmatized.
While companies begin to examine their response to the issue, business women and men can take action personally – not by perpetuating all-or-nothing choices, but by using the talents that have made them successful in business to address the issue head-on. Some suggestions:
Establish mentors. The tensions of work/life balance tend to be felt most intensely by women in their 30s, when marriage, career, and motherhood converge. These women can benefit from the experience women who have successfully navigated this particularly challenging time of life.
Hire a coach. Because this issue is so personal, one-on-one coaching with a professional can help promising women make choices that truly honor all of who they are.
Use creativity. Find new ways to meet the needs of women leaders-which in many cases may simply mean asking them what they want.
Beware the punishing workload. Many professions value long hours over quality work. Take a second look at the business culture and see if it really awards what’s most important.
Work against the stigma. Combat stereotypes against people who choose flex time or job sharing by making opportunities available to them and being fair with recognition.
As this issue becomes more widespread, many are calling for the increased participation on the part of companies to address the problem. Women leaders can help make that happen. In the meantime, businesswomen and men can also continue to work one by one on an individual basis that makes change possible – if not for the entire population of women in business, at least for one at a time.