Big firms to Moms: “Please come back to work”

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Women are still often expected to choose between family and work – despite the fact that men are rarely expected to make the same sacrifices – but some large US firms are realizing that their talent pools are shrinking thanks to that attitude.

According to the Wall Street Journal, consulting firm McKinsey & Co is “quietly reaching out to female employees who left some years ago” hoping to tempt them back to the corporate world. Two other large consulting firms also have programs in place to recruit former employees.

At Bain & Co more than 100 women, mostly mothers, have returned since 2000, - some 80% of the company’s female partners have taken advantage of its flextime policies.

According to Statistics Canada, childless women can earn up to 30% more than their parent counterparts, and candidates who are mothers, along with the long-term unemployed, are often treated as if they have lost the skills needed for their former positions.

The discrimination mothers experience is not isolated to the workplace. In a 2007 University of Chicago study, participants rated mothers as considerably less competent than others with similar skills and experience. Fathers experienced no such discrimination, and were sometimes given extra credit compared to men without children. The researchers found women were just as likely to discriminate against mothers.

But more and more employers are realizing they can’t afford to discard such a high proportion of the population – 80% of women will have at least one child in their lifetime so those ignoring such candidates are missing more than a third of their potential talent pool.

Boston Consulting Group focuses heavily on recruiting and retaining women, and offer part-time options, mentoring and professional development programs. Lucy Brady, a BCG partner and mother of three, says she was appointed partner while working part-time at the firm, which she has done for 10 out of 15 years.

While there are challenges for workers returning to the office after a long absence, many companies are offering transition programs, such as short term projects and orientation sessions to help workers settle back in. It’s also up to returning workers to have kept up with changes in technology and social media.

It’s key for both employee and employer to be flexible and supportive in the first few months. A returning high performer can feel pressure to return at the same level as when they left, but it’s likely to take time to settle back in. Have candid discussions about progress and improvement areas to ensure everyone is on the same page.

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