37% of highly qualified women Off Ramp for a period, usually for 1-2 years after their 2nd child.
- Center for Work Life Policy
"We believe countless high-performing, high-potential employees who opted out of their enterprises
or in other ways underperformed relative to their potential in recent decades
could have been retained if the customized career options had been
visible and viable as they weighed these difficult choices."
- Authors, Mass Career Customization
Off Ramping is frustrating for all involved - for the companies who have invested in highly-qualified professionals and for the ambitious, talented individuals who are unable to chart a viable career path among alternatives that do not permit a workable fit. Recognize that over 60% of today’s college graduates are women. With Off Ramping rates of up to 40%, much of our qualified workforce is not easily retained in the traditional workplace environment.
Off Ramping differs by discipline. The most comprehensive study on the non-linear careers of women was conducted by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and reported in her book, Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success. This study reports the following differences:
While Off Ramping data is not available for science, engineering, and technology fields, 52% of women do leave SET careers, whether to Off Ramp or for jobs in other sectors.
The Cost of Attrition
Many employees received expensive training and other investments to develop them as key players and potential leaders. If they are not retained at this crucial point in their personal lives they are often lost for good (among those who Off Ramped, 95% would not consider returning to their previous employer, Center for Work Life Policy); if they are retained they are likely to remain loyal.
The costs to attract, train, and retain a new employee with experience and skills similar to those being replaced is at least twice the former employee's salary. For those employees with knowledge-based, analytical skills, that cost can reach up to five times the salary.
Career Building and Family Building
Prior to having children, the careers of men and women are indistinguishable. Over time, many women find that their career paths are colliding with their biological clocks. They are starting and raising families precisely when they are expected to accelerate their careers and climb the corporate ladder. When children are added to the mix, career paths begin to differ by gender significantly.
Dual Career Families Feel Forced to Choose
Extreme jobs, in particular, play a role in Off Ramping. These types of jobs create a situation in which dual careers are not sustainable while raising a family. One parent in an extreme job without flexibility can force the other spouse to choose between work and family.
According to a study by Youngjoo Cha, a graduate student in Cornell’s department of sociology, women whose husbands worked over 60 hours per week were 44 percent more likely to quit their jobs than women whose husbands worked regular hours. Furthermore, Cha found that the subgroup of professional women with overworked husbands were 52 percent more likely to quit their jobs than similarly-situated women with husbands who worked normal hours.
The study also found that the number of workers who are classified as overworked has risen by more than 3 percent since 1983 and that 30 percent of professional husbands in two-income households work more than 50 hours per week, whereas only 12 percent of their professional wives do the same.
Intent to Return: The On Ramp Hurdle
Off Ramping women do not leave their jobs due to lack of ambition. It is more often an attempt to regain equilibrium in their lives. Without the necessary tools to manage the daily fluctuations of family and job demands, many reach a breaking point.
Several studies show that these talented professionals do intend to return to the workforce, for financial reasons and to seek personal fulfillment.
The search for an On Ramp is often far more difficult than most women imagine.
Successful Employee Re-Engagement
If employees do take a career break, it is important to maintain the relationship with them during the Off Ramp period to ensure the greatest chance of a successful re-engagement. Two of the greatest hurdles to re-entering the workforce are current knowledge and connections. Keep the connections (as long as they aren't employed elsewhere) with continued coaching and mentoring, professional and skills development programs, current professional accreditations, invitations to functions, and holiday parties.
More and more companies are developing alumni programs and re-internships as a way to bridge the On Ramp gap.