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Achieving the work-life balance

Smart companies accommodate women returning to the workforce

Many women juggle work and family, such as this student, who attends classes at Simmons School of Management while raising her young children. Many women juggle work and family, such as this student, who attends classes at Simmons School of Management while raising her young children.
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March 30, 2008

Tammy Resor went back to school when the youngest of her five children started kindergarten. "I knew I wanted to have a career, and with five kids I was already running on overload," says Resor, who enrolled in an MBA program at Simmons College. The program is designed for women eager to re-enter the workforce after taking time off.

Resor, a former teacher, finished her MBA in two years and found a job right away in Simmons' admissions office. She spent the next several years juggling a full-time job and an active family life. Then, after a vacation in Croatia, Resor decided to start an adventure travel business that provides kayak tours up and down the beautiful Dalmatian Coast. Resor credits her success to the MBA degree, which gave her the tools and the confidence to start her own business.

For women finding their way back to the workplace, there are a variety of programs, like the Simmons MBA, to help them get back on track. In fact, businesses are doing more to retain female employees by offering greater flexibility for those looking to balance families and careers.

According to a study done by the Center for Women's Leadership at Babson College, over half of the women who leave their jobs to care for children will, at some point, return to the workforce. The study also found that on average, the women surveyed stayed home 4.6 years before returning to work.

"The study confirmed what we already knew," says Dr. Janelle Shubert, director of the Center for Women's Leadership. "Many women don't have linear career paths. They often leave jobs for a variety of reasons throughout their careers." One woman Shubert knows who has an MBA, worked as a marketing professional while raising her first two children. When the third was born, she stepped out of the workforce for nine years. When it was time to return, she volunteered at Babson College to "get back into the swing of things" and figure out how to manage child care. Soon she landed a part-time, project-based job with a large financial service company, which has now grown into a full-time job, some of which she can do at home.

The firm of Deloitte & Touche USA LLP recognizes the need for flexibility. They have an off-ramp/ on-ramp program called Personal Pursuits, which allows employees to leave the company but keeps them connected with mentors and networking. They also provide opportunities for former employees to do short-term work projects to help maintain their skills. "What this takes into account is that women's careers are complex," says Shubert. "They step on and off of the corporate ladder." Deloitte also works to recruit women stepping back in. One business development manager joined the firm in 2006 after taking eight years off when her children were small.

Eliza Shanley, co-owner of Women@Work, a networking and recruitment agency geared to women re-entering the workforce, is at the forefront of the life-work balance issue. Her goal is to get companies, and women, to realize that reentry into top jobs is actually possible. "Many of these women were educated at the top schools and often had worked at Wall Street firms or Fortune 500 companies," says Shanley. "They have fantastic resumes, so it is surprising that they aren't finding opportunities."

But today, Shanley says, employers are becoming more flexible in creating solutions for returning women workers. This may mean working at home one day a week, or it may mean leaving early only during soccer season. It's different for everyone, says Shanley. Often, if companies aren't able to negotiate on salary, they are able to negotiate about time. "Hiring women is still a diversity issue," Shanley notes. "These firms do a wonderful job recruiting as many women as men to entry level jobs.

But after about 10 years, the number of women drops off, which leaves these organizations looking very male at the senior level." Not so at Rocket Software in Newton, where flexible scheduling and work-at-home situations have delighted some recent moms. "It's very easy these days, as far as technology goes, to have employees work at home, and it allows them the flexibility to find a balance," says Karen Player, director of human resources.

Dancing Deer Baking Company, Inc. is another local company that values work-life balance for its employees and in doing so offers full benefits to anyone who works 24 hours per week. Additionally, new moms have arranged flexible schedules after their maternity leaves.

One woman, who works in the bakery's accounting office, left her corporate accounting career when her children were small. When she decided to return to work she wanted to be home for her kids after school. A job at Dancing Deer allows that. She now works four days a week, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. "Our employees are valuable to us and we want to keep them," says Jennifer Moore, public relations and marketing associate at Dancing Deer. The company is run by Trish Carter, mother of two. "If anyone understands the issues, it's she," says Moore As far as the work-life balance goes, Resor may have found the ultimate solution. She now lives six months each year running her business in Croatia and six months at home in Westwood. Her advice for other moms who are thinking of returning to work? "Dream big. This is as an opportunity to reinvent yourself."

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