It’s a common conundrum many women face: they work hard establishing a career for much of their 20s and even their 30s. Then, a baby comes along, and they find themselves weighing the needs of this totally vulnerable, precious little person against the demands and rewards of the career they worked so hard to achieve.
And the risks are real. Women who decide to "off-ramp" for a few years take hits in salary, prestige and perception. According to the Center for Work-Life Policy, 37 percent of highly qualified women leave their careers for an average of 2.2 years.
However, they experience an 18 percent drop in earning power when they return, which escalates to 37 percent if they leave the workforce for three or more years.
Almost all women they surveyed wanted to return to work, but only 74 percent found jobs and of those, only 40 percent found full-time jobs.
The Holy Grail for these women, almost across the board, is flexible work arrangements rather than increased compensation – and some companies are responding, recognizing the value of holding on to talented employees.
Locally, Compuware is one of the leaders in work-life balance programs. Employees there enjoy a high-quality, on-site daycare center for young children, special camps and drop-in care for school-aged kids during school breaks, an on-site family practice doctor and a host of other benefits designed to make life run smoothly at the office and at home.
Thomas Costello, senior vice president for human resources at Compuware, says the company looks at these benefits as an investment in their employees to help them achieve a healthy balance. "The company's employees provide the foundation for Compuware's success, and we believe investing in their health and happiness generates loyalty, productivity and creativity," he says.
He notes that their work-life benefits are not only aimed at parents –they offer a Wellness Center at their downtown Detroit headquarters with a huge range of classes and sports leagues, pet insurance, and a variety of lunch and learn topics. He cites a "get things done" culture versus a "face-time" culture as the reason employees are able to take advantage of these benefits.
And talented employees choose to stay because of them. Lesley Koczara has been with Compuware more than 10 years. A mother of three, she says she never considered staying home and has never looked for another position. "If I decided to make a change, three people would have to adjust," she says of herself and her two youngest children, who attend Compuware’s Child Care Center. "It was tough handing over a six-week-old infant for the first time, but such a comfort to know that I can stop in anytime during the day to visit."
A host of amenities right in the building, such as dry cleaning, tailoring, and retail stores allow her to accomplish things during the day that would be difficult with small children in tow and a 40-minute commute each way, she says.
Although Compuware’s generous benefits are rare locally, family-friendly policies tend to follow industries instead of geographic areas, says Karen Sumberg, associate vice president for communications and projects at the Center for Work-Life Policy. Financial services and consulting, with their high-performance, high-demand cultures, have emerged as leaders, she says.
Many companies have instituted programs that allow employees who want to take some time off to stay in touch through training programs and project work. Others offer a real commitment to flexibility.
"The war for talent is heating up, as companies need to keep innovative, talented people who also have institutional knowledge," Sumberg says. "It’s a huge expense to replace someone who has been there eight years and has a lot of contacts, which especially in consulting is a huge deal."
Accounting, tax and consulting firm Deloitte is one of those leaders. Tina Wheeler, an audit partner at Deloitte’s Detroit office and a member of the company’s Women’s Initiative, says the company began tracking the careers of its hiring classes back in the early 1990s and discovered there was a huge dropoff of women in senior positions. Half of their hiring classes were typically women, while the partner ranks were only 3 percent women.
Determined to address the problem, Deloitte instituted several programs to address that, including offering flexible hours and part-time schedules. "We have a business imperative that we cannot have this kind of turnover,” Wheeler says. “We need to figure out how to crack the code and keep more women."
Wheeler herself has been a beneficiary. When her second child was born in 1997, she struggled with the decision to go back to work or stay home. Like many parents, she thought juggling the needs of two children and a highly demanding job would just be too difficult.
Two factors made the difference for her, she says – the encouragement of her husband and the offer of a flexible schedule. She started back at a 70 percent schedule and has been slowly ramping up her hours over the years.
It requires flexibility and commitment, she says. She shifts her hours if a client has a crucial need on a day she typically is out of the office, and tends to keep mum about exactly where she is working if a client reaches her while she’s at her home office or attending a child’s event.
But she’s proud to serve as a role model for other women in the company who are looking at work-life balance issues. Because she is a partner, she says she sends the message to all employees that the company is serious about flexibility and about retaining high-performing female employees.
Going their own way
Some women choose to forgo the corporate route entirely, starting their own businesses which allow for more flexibility while still providing the income and satisfaction of professional work. Diana Jacokes, president and CEO of Jacokes Communications, was a pioneer in this – she started her successful Farmington Hills corporate communications firm 30 years ago, when her oldest son was born.
She’d been a senior editor in Ford’s marketing communications department, and had left for maternity leave with every intention of going back. She found that more difficult than she’s ever imagined. "I couldn’t stand the thought of giving this beautiful baby to someone else, all day, every day," she says. "I went with my heart."
That would be a bold move in any era, and especially in the social climate of 30 years ago. Women were just beginning to make real progress in getting hired and promoted in career-track jobs. "Here we were, fighting to get the jobs then to move up the ladder," she says. “Right when things were starting to get really good, I just backed out.”
There were challenges then that are less common, if not completely eradicated, now. One of the biggest was simply that people rarely worked from home – there were no cell phones, fax machines or laptops. Similarly, some people took a dim view of a mother’s ability to be a professional. "I couldn’t say I couldn’t make a meeting because I didn’t have a sitter, but I could say I was going to be out of town,"she says.
Now that all three of her children are successfully launched and her business is thriving, Jacokes says she knows she made the right choices. "I don’t think there’s anything to be served by saying, I have a mind and talent and education, but because I have a baby I have to say goodbye," she says. "I would have felt like half of me was missing if wasn’t able to write and do creative projects."
Many women feel the same –and there are more and more options that let them use their talents both as mothers and as workers.
Detroit freelancer Amy Kuras has written about local schools – among a host of other topics –for more than a decade. Her last article for metromode was SE Michigan: Found In Translation.
Compuware employees enjoy a mid-day workout in its Wellness Center - Detroit
Compuware's Day Care Center - Detroit
Amanda and Lesley Koczara at Compuware's Day Care Center - Detroit
Compuware's Wellness Center offers a jogging track, amongst many other activities - Detroit
Tina Wheeler - audit partner at Deloitte’s Detroit office and a member of the company’s Women’s Initiative - photo courtesy Tina Wheeler
Diana Jacokes - president and CEO of Jacokes Communication - Farmington Hills
Photographs by Marvin Shaouni