Understanding the War for Talent – Off-Ramps and On-Ramps

Sylvia Ann Hewlett is an economist and the Director of the Gender and Policy Program at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University. Her most recent book, Brainpower (2014) contains a wealth of valuable research showing how the old career model – particularly for women – just does not work. Hewlett reports that, “fully 60 percent of highly qualified women have nonlinear careers. They take off-ramps and scenic routes and have a hard time conjuring up continuous, cumulative, lockstep employment—which is a necessary condition for success within the confines of the white male competitive model.”[1] For too many talented women this model doesn’t work, which is why many companies find it difficult to attract and retain female talent, just when the need for the broadest talent pool is greater than ever.”[2]

Off-Ramps & On-Ramps Revisited
Off-Ramps & On-Ramps Revisited

Sylvia Ann Hewlett points out that, “Despite the fact that women these days are highly credentialed (49 percent of law school graduates and 36 percent of business school graduates are female), they are not being promoted or advanced at a rate commensurate with their weight in the talent pool.”[3] More than half of all professional and graduate degrees are now awarded to women. [4] According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of women with graduate and professional degrees is projected to grow by 16 percent over the next decade, while the number of men with these degrees is projected to grow by a mere 1.3 percent.[5]

In the forward to Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book, Off-Ramps and On-Ramps, Carolyn Buck Luce, Chair of Hidden Brain Drain Task Force[6] made reference to closing comments made during the 2005 launching of the task forces research studies at the House of Commons in London. Patricia Fili-Krushel serves as Chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, task force co-chair, came up with a powerful image that has loomed large in task force conversations: “These women who leave or languish, are, in effect, the canaries in the coal mine, the first and most conspicuous of an out-dated, dysfunctional career model.” Fili-Krushel then went on to enumerate some of the other casualties: “58-year-old baby boomers who don’t want to retire but are no longer willing to put in 70-hour weeks; and 28-year-old Gen X and Y men who want to be better, more involved fathers than their dads were, and need flexible work.”[7]

[1] Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2007) p. 1.

[2] Ibid. p. 4.

[3] American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, “A Current Glance at Women in the Law,” http://www.abanet.org/women/CurrentGlanceStatistics2006.pdf: Catalyst, “Quick Takes: Women MBAs”, http://www.catalyst.org/files/quicktakes/Quick%20Takes%-20Women%20MBAs.pdf

[4] National Center for Educational Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics Tables and Figures 2005, table 246, “Degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by level of degree and sex of student: Selected years, 1869-70 through 2013-14,” http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d05/tables/dt05_246.asp, Data is for academic year 2004-2005.

[5] National Center for Education Statistics, Projections of Education Statistics to 2012. Data projected to 2012. Calculation by the Center for Work-Life Policy.

[6] In February 2004, Sylvia Ann Hewlett (Center for Work-Life Policy and Columbia University), Cornel West (Princeton University and Carolyn Buck Luce, the Global Pharmaceutical Sector Leader at Ernst & Young LLP, founded the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force. The idea was to persuade corporations to become stakeholders in an effort to fully realize female talent over the life span of their careers. The mission of the task force is to identify, develop, and promote a second generation of corporate policies and practices that support women’s ambition, work, and life needs. By June 2006, the task force had grown to thirty-four global corporations, representing 2.5 million employees, operating in 152 countries around the world.

[7] Remarks made at House of Commons, London, February 24, 2005.

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