Most Women Aren't "Opting Out" of Work Force, Authors Say
BOSTON (January 18, 2007) — Contrary to numerous reports that imply women are "opting out" of the work force in large numbers, a study of professional women released today finds that the great majority of those women are negotiating flexible work arrangements as a way to remain in the workplace, while continuing to see their incomes grow. Study authors say the women are leading the way to a new career model for women and men.
The study found that more than 90 percent of the women surveyed have used some kind of flexible work arrangements during their careers; 88 percent of them used flexible work arrangements at some point in their career to remain employed full time while managing complex lives.
Professor Mary Shapiro of the Simmons School of Management in Boston, lead study author, said the study showed that "women are leading the way in how all employees in the future will take more control over managing their careers. They are shifting the career paradigm."
And unlike earlier reports that warned that women who ask for flexible work arrangements will experience decreased earning power, the women surveyed who used flexible work arrangements reported financial success: their incomes were no different than those of women who did not employ flexible work arrangements. More than 85 percent of the women were responsible for at least half of their household incomes.
The findings were from an online survey of more than 400 middle- and senior-level professional women from around the nation with an average of 20 years' work experience from across the business and non-profit spectrum, who attended the 2006 Simmons School of Management Leadership Conference in Boston.
Conducted by the Simmons School of Management in collaboration with HP, a lead conference sponsor, the survey examined to what extent women were leaving the work force, why they make their career decisions, and how they manage work/life balance.
The women reported negotiating flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting, flexible hours, and a limitation on traveling or evening work at various points in their careers, as their primary ways to continue working while managing busy lives outside of work.
Previous studies have said that 37 percent of U.S. women have voluntarily stopped working; in the Simmons/HP study, only 18 percent had done so.
Over the past few years there have been a series of media reports in national publications that women were beginning to "opt out" of the work force to stay at home.
"It's a myth--based on a handful of anecdotes in the popular press about white, high-income women--that women are opting out of the workforce in droves, " said Shapiro. "It's also notable that the women in our study who used flexible work arrangements did not sacrifice financial success, when compared to those who didn't use flexible work options."
"Overwhelmingly, the women in our study say they must work, both to support themselves and to provide a significant percentage of their household income," she said. "But they have been smart and creative: they have negotiated flexible work arrangements as a strategic and powerful way to remain in the workforce, to bring balance to their lives, and to still enjoy financial success.
"Women are at the leading edge of shifting the career paradigm for everyone. They're no longer acting as agents of their employers, but as career ‘self agents,' using flexible work arrangements and setting their own terms of employment as a way to make ‘work work.'"
Noting that more than 60 percent of the women surveyed said they would be more loyal and "go the extra mile" for an organization that offered flexible work arrangements, Shapiro said that organizations can benefit significantly by encouraging flexible work arrangements for women and men.
"There's a workforce shortage on the horizon," she said, "and flexible work arrangements may be the main strategic advance in the coming decades in attracting and retaining male and female essential talent."
Study co-authors were Simmons School of Management professors Cynthia Ingols, Ed.D, and Stacy Blake-Beard, Ph.D. Visit the the Simmons School of Management/HP survey for a complete look at the results.
The Simmons School of Management, the nation's only business school designed for women, is a leading authority on women, leadership, and management. HP provided 20 computers and technology support on the day of the leadership conference that ensured the efficiency of the survey process. HP is a technology solutions provider to consumers, businesses and institutions globally.
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