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There have been a number of news stories lately about how women are leaving companies or "opt-outing" to have children. What's behind this phenomenon?

There are several reasons why women opt-out, not just to spend time with family, as so much of the media suggests. Most surveys show that gender discrimination and the lack of advancement in the number one reason. Family issues run neck and neck with lack of advancement. Other reasons include: corporate downsizings, lack of challenge at work (sheer boredom), eldercare responsibilities, , searching for meaning in one's life, and/or a medical crisis. Additional reasons include: the desire to start one's own business, need for a job change or the need for a sabbatical, the need to make a major change in one's personal life, or the need to pursue educational opportunities. We found for most women they were intending to stop work while their children were young, and then return "someday". Some women do return to the workforce, often in a diminished capacity than before. For others, that 'someday" never comes. Why? Because corporations do not have mechanisms for women to return easily, though that is improving ( see chapter 8 - lots on this).

Is opting-out a new phenomenon?
What are the statistics on women leaving the workforce?

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics (their 2005 data should be out shortly, this is from 2004):

-Self-employment for women is increasing: from 27% in 1976 to 38% in 2004.

-The number of employed mothers with children decreased from 73% in 2000 to 71% in 2004.

-There are slightly more two parent families in which only the husband is employed in 2004 than in 2000.

-Despite the increase of women earning advanced degrees, 89% of men are employed with only 76% of women employed.

-Over the last thirty five years, the number of women working part time ( less than 35 hours) has remained fairly constant while the number of men remain consistently full time employed.

Are men leaving the workforce, also? Why?

Men opt-out due to circumstances, rather than choice. We found men opted-out because their firms were downsizing and they decided to develop an alternate path. Many men developed lateral Kaleidoscope Careers, where they worked out of their homes or free lanced their skills to a variety of businesses. We also discovered some men are beginning to become stay-at home Dads - the alternate path to the traditional caregiver Mom - who have spouses who have the high octane career.

Are women motivated by different factors at different points in their careers?

We found women develop "Kaleidoscope Careers" based on three life parameters: authenticity, balance, and challenge ( The ABC's of a Kaleidoscope Career). Consider that women have three aspects of their kaleidoscopes: 1) the need for authenticity, or the need to be genuine, true to themselves, 2) the need to balance their relationships, and 3)the need for challenge and career ambition. In early career, women seek challenge and career ambition in their jobs. When those needs are fulfilled, mostly anyway, inn mid career, at the time they have a family, the issue of balance rises to the ascendancy, causing them to eclipse the need for challenge. This is the point when women opt-out - they already have fulfilled needs for challenge, so they focus on rebalancing their lives. When needs for balance are fulfilled, women return to the workforce, asking: "Is that all there is to life?" We found many strong women in midlife who started their own businesses, or pursued their passions, saying, "Hey, now I have time to reinvent myself. This is MY time."

What about men?

Men also follow a Kaleidoscope Career pattern, but in a different order. We found the primary pattern for most men was the desire to experience challenge first in their careers, and then focused on the parameter of authenticity in their forties. Later in midlife many men were more interested in adding balance to their lives. But we found a second pattern for men as well - younger men were more interested in issues of balance as well as challenge and authenticity from the beginning of their careers, and then again throughout their lives.

What about the younger generation? There has been a lot of interest in Gen X employees, who have just graduated from college. What do they want out of a career?

Millennial employees are not interested in following the standard corporate career path. They want to be paid fairly, have challenging work, but also have the time and space to spend with family and friends. They want more balance in their lives. They are accustomed to working with technology and they do not see the need to work in an office when they can work more productively from a variety of locations. Many of them saw their parents work long hours only to be downsized out of their firms - they definitely do not want to follow their parent's fate.


What do you mean by a"Kaleidoscope Career"?

A Kaleidoscope Career is a career created on an individual's own terms, defined not by a corporation but by the values and life choices of the individual. Like a kaleidoscope, careers are dynamic and in motion; as people's lives change, they alter their careers to adjust to these changes rather than relinquishing control and letting a corporate career track make changes for them. Consider the working of a kaleidoscope; as one part moves, the other parts change. Unlike men, women understand any decision they make creates changes in other's lives around them. Like a kaleidoscope that produces changing patterns when the tube is rotated and its glass chips fall into new arrangements, women shift the patterns of their careers by rotating different aspects of their lives to arrange their roles and relationships in new ways. Women evaluate the choices and options available through the lens of the kaleidoscope to determine the best fit among their relationships and work constraints/opportunities. As one decision is made, it affects the outcome of the kaleidoscope pattern. So a woman may back off on a global assignment when her children are little, but push for an assignment later when they are off in college. She may push for career challenges in her twenties and thirties, but in her forties opt-out to take care of her children, but in her fifties decide she wants to develop her own business or pursue her passion for painting.

What is an alpha pattern versus a beta pattern?

We found our analysis led to a natural conclusion that there are alpha women who are very career driven, who keep focused on the challenge parameter, pushing the other two parameters into the background, and also beta women, who were focused on the balance of their lives more than challenge or authenticity. We also found similar patterns for men.

How do people balance their careers and family lives?

We found some contemporary strategies for balance :

1. The adjusting pattern, where women sacrifice their career challenges for the sake of their families.

2. The consecutive approach, in which women opt-out for a short period of time and then re-enter the workforce later ( typically to earn college tuition for their kids)

3. The concurrent approach, in which couples try to have it all and do it all, constantly struggling to balance career and family every day, with attendant struggles thereof

4. The alternating approach, in which one member of the couple ratchetsup their work intensity while the other bides their time, and then it reverses, taking turns,

5. The synergistic pattern, in which the woman has a life situation in which she can easily balance work and home life issues ( for example, a woman professional who has one of the new mobile technology jobs in the workforce in which she is expected to take global calls from around the world at 11 pm but can do so from home and can leave work early to attend child's soccer game).

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