Off‐ramps and On‐ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success

Sara Nolan (Editor, Strategic HR Review)

Strategic HR Review

ISSN: 1475-4398

Article publication date: 18 April 2008



Nolan, S. (2008), "Off‐ramps and On‐ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 7 No. 3, pp. 57-57.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This latest book by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Creating a Life, explores how organizations can retain highly qualified women who are choosing to opt out of their careers due to the constraints of outdated career models. More than half of professional school graduates are female, yet women represent only 8 percent of the top earners at Fortune 500 companies. With the much‐discussed heating up of the war for talent, organizations cannot afford to lose these highly qualified workers.

The problem, according to Hewlett, is the male competitive model of lock‐step progressions and 70‐hour working weeks, into which the female worker finds it difficult to fit. Two thirds of highly qualified women have non‐linear careers and Hewlett's study of 2,400 high achieving women shows they take “off‐ramps” and scenic routes that make it hard for them to meet the extremities of the male competitive model. They are not, she says, male clones. Furthermore, high‐level jobs have become more stressful over the last decade due to globalization and communication technology lengthening workweeks. Professionals are expected to give more of their hearts and minds to the job, particularly during their thirties, which is when women's childbearing and family responsibilities tend to peak.

It is not all doom and gloom, however, as Hewlett puts forward solutions that are demonstrated through best practice case studies at companies such as American Express, Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson and Time Warner. Such organizations are reengineering jobs to create a more sustainable career model and the message from Hewlett is that the male competitive model can be changed and as a result women can be encouraged to “on‐ramp.” She says a “second generation of policy” is required to create alternative pathways to power and alternative work models that are better suited to the talents, lifestyles and ambitions of women.

As part of this drive, she formed the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force in February 2004 to convince progressive organizations to get involved in efforts to fully realize female talent over the lifespan through corporate policies and practices that support them and their particular needs. It is members of this growing task force that share their experiences in the book to create 18 innovative examples of best practice. Part one of the book focuses on the challenge, while part two presents these real life, tried and tested solutions. This is an interesting and inspiring read for anyone involved in talent management, diversity and HRM practices.

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