If we want healthy and vibrant companies and a healthy and vibrant economy, we need to get women to work.
A 2014 National Study of Employers conducted by the Families and Work Institute revealed a disturbing post-Great Recession retrenching when it came to programs benefiting work-life integration and women.199
• Before 2008, 14 percent of employers offered full pay for parental leave. By 2014, that number had dropped to 9 percent.
• Before 2008, 20 percent of American companies formally offered flexible work arrangements. By 2014, that number dropped to 10 percent.
• Before 2008, 64 percent of companies reported they would support an employee if they needed a career break. By 2014, only half of the companies said they would welcome an employee back.
• Before 2008, 16 percent of employers offered targeted career counseling or management leadership programs for women. By 2014, that had dropped to 12 percent.
• Before 2008, 29 percent of employers expected their managers to rate employees based on face time. By 2014, that number had jumped to 38 percent.
In other words, on an aggregate basis, today’s workplaces are getting less flexible, more political, and less supportive of women in general, and mothers in particular.
Millennial women currently account for over 60 percent of college graduates and 90 percent of new births, and it appears most companies don’t seem to realize they are on the precipice of losing a significant portion of their best-educated talent pool.
Do they think smart, modern women are just going to accept a workplace that doesn’t support work-life integration? Apparently they do.
Employers are more than willing to foster the narrative that you’re lucky to have a job at all (so be grateful and stop making demands!). It’s hard not to challenge that storyline. Read the headlines on any given day and you’d think Chicken Little was right the sky is falling. We are all still trying to catch our breaths from the shock of the 2008 Great Recession. But here’s a little secret most companies would rather you didn’t know: The economy is growing and is expected to do so for years to come. The White House, the Federal Reserve, and the Congressional Budget Office all predict we will see unemployment rates in the area of only 4 to 5 percent through 2024.200
And that’s for overall employment. Those with college degrees are likely to fare even better. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the next decade we can expect to see a 14 percent growth in jobs that require a college degree and an 18 percent growth in jobs that require a master’s degree.201 So if you are a college-educated Millennial, there is likely a job for you.
Surprising, I know, given the headlines such as “Millennials: Young, Educated, Jobless” that we’ve been seeing for years. The ongoing news stories of how hard it is to find a job for today’s college graduates means many young women and men are scared about their prospects. But that narrative denies the reality that of course new graduates are expected to be jobless or underemployed in the early stages of their careers. It’s part of the modern natural career evolution, one that is less linear than experienced by previous generations. In essence, it’s how we find what we want and are able to do.
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Consider what the New York Federal Reserve wrote in a 2014 report:
Our analysis demonstrates that new college graduates typically take some time to transition into the labor market and find jobs that utilize their education. In fact, during both good and bad economic times, relatively high rates of unemployment and underemployment are not uncommon among college graduates just beginning their careers, and those rates can be expected to drop considerably by the time the graduates reach their late twenties.
Consider also that over the next decade we will likely see millions of Baby Boomers retiring. The Social Security Administration reported that in 2015 almost 33 percent of our workforce, including 48 percent of our supervisors, became eligible to retire.203 There are currently around 50 million people over the age of sixty-five. In the next decade, that number will increase to 60 million, around 20 percent of our population.204 These aging men and women will likely pull back or fully retire, leaving room for the 80 million Millennials who want and need jobs. Finally, consider the fact that there is a growing realization women deliver bottom-line benefits and a growing movement to get women into leadership.
Frankly, it couldn’t be a better time to be a college-educated woman looking for a job. Not only are you likely to find one, but you’re in such high demand, you get to be choosy. Which means you can select a job working for a company that walks the talk when it comes to work-life integration.
The good news is that smart companies are finally seeing the light and realizing that attracting and retaining women is about creating cultures that support caregiving. Consider what Citibank has done. In 2006, it launched a new program called Maternity Transitions in its United Kingdom office. The program was multifaceted and included workshops for managers whose employees were heading out on maternity leave, workshops for the women themselves, and workshops for new fathers. This, in addition to expanding their maternity and paternity leave option, as well as offering flexible work solutions, has meant they have been able to retain 74 percent of new mothers, as measured within three years of giving birth a vast improvement from the 40 percent who previously stayed without the support. The program was so successful, it was launched in the United States in 2009 and is seeing similar results.205
This fully integrated approach should be the gold standard, but it isn’t. Sadly, most companies cry foul and argue it is just too expensive to deliver this level of support. But is it?
Frankly, it couldn’t be a better time to be a college-educated woman looking for a job. Not only are you likely to find one, but you’re in such high demand, you get to be choosy.
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