Friday, August 06, 2004

The Opt-Out Revolution

In The New York Times (October)

Laurel here ... I never read the NYT article, I only found the following letter, from Ms. Shepard, in response to it:

I had a strong reaction to the October 26th New York Times Magazine cover article by Lisa Belkin entitled, “The Opt-Out Revolution”. Perhaps it was the cover photo of a woman and a baby sitting beneath a ladder (metaphor for the corporate ladder no doubt) and the caption which referred to women abandoning the climb and heading home. Those images and the captions gave an impression women were leaving corporate America in droves, although the article itself indicated otherwise. The gist of the article is that there is a growing number of highly educated, professional women who are “opting out” and leaving ambitious career paths in favor of hearth and home. The author argues that while the absence of women in positions of power was once chiefly a result of sexism, the fact that the number of women in significant corporate roles has not increased is now a deliberate choice. Having said that, the author also acknowledges that there are “ambitious, achieving women out there who are the emotional and professional equals of any man and that there are also women who stayed the course and climbed the work ladder and were thwarted by lingering double standards and chauvinism.” After reading this article, I feel a need to set the record straight.

First, while it may be true that biology and sociology dictate a choice for women in “opting out”, it should be noted that research studies indicate that the vast majority of women opt for other opportunities within the workforce. Recent studies by The Leader’s Edge show that while corporate America may make women feel marginalized or unwelcome in the corporate culture, 90% of those we surveyed left for other opportunities. The executive women surveyed stated they felt excluded from the “information loop”, had difficulty getting their voices and strategies heard and did not receive feedback on their work and careers. Additionally, thirty one percent of the women surveyed expressed a need for a more balanced life with flexible working hours. These women were frustrated with their situations, but, instead of heading home, chose to go to other companies or START THEIR OWN BUSINESSES. Two thirds of the women are in their 40’s and 50’s, married with children, with one third making over $250,000 a year. The majority of these women reported that their new situation was a definite improvement both in terms of corporate culture and family/life balance.

Second, women constitute over half the management positions in corporate America and are poised for growth and advancement. The fact that they are not being promoted into the executive ranks, or staying there as the numbers confirm, is the real issue. It is my hope that as corporate cultures evolve, they will build in systems to retain their talented employees—both men and women—by providing more options and greater flexibility. It is clearly in corporate America’s best interest to retain and develop women. The cost of replacing an executive is generally calculated at one and one half times current salary, which includes recruitment costs, replacement salary and possible severance and litigation costs. This does not include the soft costs such as loss of knowledge, client relationships and morale to the company once a woman leaves. Additionally, women make over 80% of the buying decisions in the $3 trillion consumer product market. The optimal business marketing decision is to have women actively involved in creating and implementing strategies, products and services that appeal to the woman’s market. The Leader’s Edge is currently analyzing a study we conducted of Fortune 1000 companies and the methods or “best practices” they are currently employing in relation to their female employees. That study should be completed shortly [Laurel here ... I am going to check status], and we will have the results for you then.

Finally, in terms of the New York Times article, I hope that people actually took the time to read it completely. The photos and captions alone could be misleading and to assume a trend based on those partial elements would be unfortunate and, I believe, not in keeping with reality or the author’s intent.

A Personal Letter from Molly D. Shepard, Founder and CEO of The Leader's Edge

No comments: