There has been a lot of media coverage over the last few weeks of a research study* carried out by Harvard Business School into the career paths of their MBA alumni. One of the headlines has been that "the vast majority" of high-achieving highly-educated women leave their jobs after becoming mothers "reluctantly and as a last resort". The conclusion the HBR article makes is that highly-qualified women who take career breaks are not 'opting out' but are pushed out of corporate life by the inflexible and unsupportive nature of the workplace and their partners.
This doesn't quite ring true for me. A 2010 UK study** reported different findings: of the 23% of women who didn't return to work after having children, only 34% of these stated job and childcare obstacles as the reason. Around half cited wanting to look after their children themselves as their main motivation for taking a career break, and there were most 'carers by choice' among the highly educated group. This was my experience - I was concerned about integrating family life with a demanding job, but this felt challenging not completely impossible. My primary driver for taking a career break, and that of many of the returning professionals I have worked with, was a strong (& unexpected!) desire to be the main carer of my children in their early years.
I recognise that for most of us there is usually a combination of push and pull factors. The question I am interested in here is what is the PRIMARY driver. It's an important question for our advocacy initiatives on behalf of returners because it demonstrates whether an extended career break can be a positive choice or is just evidence of a problem to be resolved.
If you've taken a career break to look after your children, I'd love to hear about your main reason for the decision. Let me know by completing the survey question below - please help me to get enough replies for a meaningful sample. You can also contribute your thoughts and perspective on the new Women Returners Professional Network LinkedIn group (for returners only) where I'll also be posting this question.
If you can't see the survey question, here's the link to access it:
* Rethink what you 'know'about high-achieving women Harvard Business Review Dec 2014
** Maternity and Paternity Rights and Women Returners Survey DWP Research Report No 777 (Chanfreau et al, 2011)
Posted by Julianne
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