For years, business schools have been trying to increase the number of female M.B.A. graduates. But long-term success hasn’t always followed the cap and gown. That’s the conclusion of a study released last week by the Wharton Center for Leadership and Change Management and the ForteFoundation.org, a consortium of business schools and major companies. The study examined the ease with which women re-entered the workforce after taking a hiatus to raise a family, care for a parent, or tend to other personal matters. Among the findings:
• An overwhelming majority (70 percent) of women initially felt positive about leaving their full-time jobs. But this optimism dropped sharply as they tried to re-enter the workplace later on. Many women reported feeling frustrated or depressed by their job search and found the experience negative.
• Eighty-three percent of women took either a comparable role or a lower role than they had held prior to their hiatus. Only 17 percent re-entered the field at a higher level.
• Most women who went back to work took positions with smaller companies or changed industries altogether.
Finding a new position after taking five years off to raise her two children was a trying experience for Connie English of Charlottesville, Va.
“I wasn’t sure how people would receive me,” says English, who earned an M.B.A. from the University of Virginia’s Darden School and worked as a consultant and executive at firms like Booz Allen and PepsiCo before quitting. “Nobody shut the door in my face, but nobody really opened it either.” She worried about having to take a lower position to compensate for the time she had taken off. But eventually she found a comparable job with her alma mater, advising women on career issues.
Some companies are taking the female brain drain seriously. At Ernst and Young, almost 24 percent of experienced hires are individuals who have previously worked for the company. Half of these “boomerangs” are women, who are encouraged to keep in touch during a hiatus through an extensive alumni network and by signing up for part-time projects. The company, whose workforce is 49 percent female overall, also provides its employees with 100 hours of outside help, like babysitting and care for an elderly parent, plus a concierge service, to help smooth the transition back into a full-time job.
Still, much of the burden falls on the re-entrant. One tactic is to have a plan before you exit, says Elissa Ellis, executive director of the Forte Foundation. If you expect to take a two-to-five-year leave, “think about investing in yourself for that two- o-five-year period,” she says. “Take advantage of professional seminars, keep in touch with your colleagues, and keep those networks sound.”
SOURCES: National Association Of Women Business Owners