• Wed, Feb 20 2013

Top Consulting Firm Reaches Out To Female Employees Who Quit After Motherhood

MK-CB011_McKINS_DV_20130219195034This feels fairly momentous: The prestigious consulting firm McKinsey & Co. is reaching out to female employees who quit their jobs years ago to start families, seeing if they’re reading to return to work. The move signals a sea change in the way that major companies approach work/life balance, particularly for women, who often end up opting out rather than soldiering on. Is this the beginning of a new era?

The Wall Street Journal, which says details of the recruitment program are still sketchy, has the story: It can take an MBA between 6 and 8 years to make partner, which means many women become partners just as they’re ready to have children. Many end up leaving altogether. “Most companies simply acknowledge the departures and move on,” the paper writes, “but some of them are starting to recruit talented women who are ready to resume work.”

As the Journal sums it up, “the effort is one small signal that at least some companies are re-examining some of the most basic terms of women’s working lives.” Other companies cited in the article include Goldman Sachs and Boston Consulting Group. At Bain & Co., more than 100 women have returned to work since 2000, and more than 80% of female partners have taken advantage of flex time.

The move isn’t a cure-all to the thorny question of work/life balance raised so effectively by Anne-Marie Slaughter‘s Atlantic cover story last year, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” But the fact that a high-echelon company is taking steps to recapture some of its departed female employees feels like one small step for wealthy white-collar women, one giant step for womankind.

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  • Lastango

    This feels like a giant step backwards for new MBAs. Here’s the phrase that caught my eye:

    “Companies…should be focusing on this pool just like they’re focusing on the pool of recent college graduates,” (Carol Fishman Cohen) said.

    Experienced employees can be more productive and cheaper than newly-minted MBAs. Also, a lot of these women probably only want to work part time. That saves the firm money because gives the firm has the flexibility to only bring these women in to work when the firm needs them. We see that clearly in the reference to “Several other employers are trying programs to bring former workers back into the fold. Some of them, including Goldman Sachs… have ‘returnship’ programs, paid short-term jobs targeted at professionals who haven’t worked for several years.

    So, let’s be suspicious that this may in fact be part of the beginning a giant step backwards for professional employment. Firms like McKinsey might turning into jobshops that treat educated white collar people like stringers. There’s no stability, no visibility on future earnings, and the ever-present risk of not being called back often enough. We see this in the software industry, where there are few full-time employees and project-based work is farmed out to contractors all over the world. Young people camped temporarily in the hip offices of tech firms migh revel in their freedom, but they’re too green to know they’re just disposable hired hands.

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    As an aside, we can add this on top of the collapse of the legal industry, and the declining demand for MBA grads:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324296604578175764143141622.html?mod=WSJ_hp_mostpop_read

    And also the declining earnings for college grads in general:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/09/the-graph-that-should-accompany-every-article-about-millennials-and-economics/262649/

    Magazine writers love to celebrate the rise of women in the professional ranks, but — before blowing big bucks on a degree — it’s important to be aware that the music may be stopping for everyone who carries a briefcase to work. Law schools have been under fire for hyping law careers while concealing from applicants the dismal job and earnings prospects. They’re not the only culprits. It’s like handing someone in a hole an even bigger shovel.