Pamela Stone is a professor of sociology at Hunter College and the leading academic focused on women who have paused their careers. In 2004, she interviewed fifty-four women about their “choice” to leave the paid work world. She published her findings in Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home.27 Her research revealed a much more nuanced and complex look at “opt-out” moms than the narrative the media had previously presented. Professor Stone had found that, like me, these women didn’t necessarily want to leave their careers but were forced out by a system that punished the realities of their lives.
However, Professor Stone’s original research is more than a decade old. So is other compelling data from Sylvia Ann Hewlett, a workplace innovation expert and author of numerous books on women’s career choices. In 2004, Hewlett and her team from the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force studied 2,443 “highly qualified” women who had taken a voluntary career break. She published their findings in Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success. Like Professor Stone, Sylvia Ann Hewlett found a cohort of women who left their careers but were eager (like the vast majority of unemployed people) to get back into the paid workforce. Her research showed that 93 percent of respondents wanted to return to their careers. But, as she made clear, only 74 percent of those who wanted to rejoin actually managed to do so and when they did they often worked part-time or for lower pay. She wrote, “Off-ramps are around every curve in the road, but once a woman has taken one, on-ramps are few and far between and extremely costly.”28
How Does A Virtual Career Fair Work Photo Gallery
Talk about a yield sign.
And yet, given the incredible workplace changes that have happened in the last ten years (technology alone has changed not only how one works but where one works), I wanted more recent data on the 2.3 million college-educated women who pause their careers to care for their families every year. In particular, I wondered about those women who pulled back and then dreamed of powering forward. Were they able to get back in? How did they navigate their re-entry? What worked for them? What would they do differently if they could go back in time to their younger selves? Would they do it again? Did they have regrets?
I wanted answers, so I reached out to Erin St. Onge-Carpenter, CEO of TWTW Companies, a direct-to-client research service, to help me craft a quantitative study of the modern woman’s career path. I had met Erin, a mother of four, when I interviewed her for this book. She told me about her non-linear career including two pauses, a corporate rise up to a vice presidency, and a launch into entrepreneurship with her own market research firm For many years, she has been the primary breadwinner in her family and her pauses haven’t hindered her career. Erin understood exactly what I wanted to achieve with our research because she lives it each and every day.
With the guidance of Professor Stone and Carol Fishman Cohen, founder and CEO of iRelaunch, a company dedicated to helping women re-enter the paid workforce after a career break, Erin and I conducted a comprehensive quantitative analysis similar to the Off-Ramps and On-Ramps survey completed a decade before. Our goal was to detail the career paths of well-educated, high-potential women.29 In all, 1,476 respondents shared with us their feelings, ideas, thoughts, and experiences as they worked to integrate their personal and professional goals. We called it the Women on the Rise survey because that is what they told us they were.
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