What does a company whose primary purpose is to find workforce efficiencies do when it is at risk of losing one quarter of its staff regularly?
In McKinsey & Company’s case, it lures that staff back with aplomb. Women account for only 25% of McKinsey’s work force and the majority, or about 80%, of those women exercise their flex or part-time options when it’s time to raise a family.
However, a majority of those women aren’t returning to their regular hours at all, citing difficulty in the double pressure of full-time motherhood and the full-time workload of a consultant’s job, regularly logging in up to 80 hours a week. For women seeking management positions, this feat was nearly impossible. As one former McKinsey consultant cited in the Wall Street Journal, “the joke was that working half-time was still 40 hours a week,” for those seeking partnership at the firm. The firm is now taking serious steps to reverse the tide of women departing their posts too soon and not rising up within the company ranks to senior positions.
Some other companies that are taking the plunge back into the mommy pool of talent are Goldman Sachs who has launched a “returnship” program that focuses on re-integrating employees who have left back into the workforce. McKinsey lovingly refers to its reintegration of working moms as “laptops and lullabies.” Statistically the U.S. is very far behind when it comes to understanding and being flexible about maternity leave. The average is 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but some companies are far stricter. According to the Maternal & Child Health Bureau, 26% of Americans only take 5-8 weeks and 33.1% took none. For many, returning to work is not a choice.
Further studies, conducted by McKinsey itself, show that putting women back to work is better for the overall economy. About 76% of all American women aged 25-54 are in the workforce compared to 87% in Sweden. This varies widely across states but the effect is still damaging by having one quarter of the female population out of work the country’s overall GDP suffers. According to the McKinsey study, if each state contributed 84% of women to its workforce, the U.S. economy would grow by 3%. Most notably, women are seriously underrepresented in senior positions. As responsibilities and hours continue to grow, it becomes harder for women to rise through the ranks without dropping off.
Anne Marie-Slaughter brought great attention and controversy to this issue in her article in the Atlantic last July titled, “Why Women Can’t Really Have it All,” in which she addressed how ultimately women do have to make a choice between the corner office and motherhood.
Her basic argument is that the infrastructure of the American workforce does not allow women to have flexible hours. Only superstars like Marissa Mayer, who as CEO of Yahoo! can set her staff schedule around her personal life, can truly pioneer their own fates and destinies. Hopefully, however, with companies like McKinsey and Goldman Sachs taking the time to review the impact of women leaving and reentering the workforce, this accepted notion that women simply can’t push through the glass ceiling will be reversed.
If companies thoroughly and consistently comb through their workforce and see the benefits, added value, and impact of re-integrating women back after maternity leave, then the idea of work-life balance can actually become attainable.