July 2, 2019 Julie Weinberg

Freedom to Work Creates New Challenges for Women

Single happy businesswoman reading a letter sitting in a coffee shop

Women are enjoying more freedom in the working world than ever, and it’s creating a unique situation for many: the challenge of re-engaging after a career break.

How did we get here?
· In 1950, about 33% of the workforce was female. Today, that number has grown to almost 47%.
· More women are becoming educated. In 2016, more than 40% of women in the labor force had college degrees, compared to 11% in 1970.
· Women are also making gains in the range of occupations. In 2016, more than 33% of lawyers were women compared with less than 10% in 1974.

(Source: U.S. Department of Labor)

All of this progress flooded the work force with highly educated, ambitious women.

Then, despite all of the gains in the later half of the last century, a new trend emerged in the new millennium. Female participation in the workforce slowed and started to decline. As this shift started taking off, The Harvard Business Review reported nearly 40% of highly qualified women were choosing to leave work at some point in their careers.

Why the change? There are a variety of theories including a short supply of middle-class jobs, rising child-care costs that take up any and all income, and younger potential workers opting to stay in school longer. Regardless of the reason, women started to opt-out, some even leaving behind six-figure salaries and high-powered positions to stay home and care for their children.

After years dealing with potty training, play dates, and volunteering, many of these women decide to return to the workforce, however, the path forward has never been paved. As Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace observe in their book The Ambition Decisions, “What women’s lives look like has changed so quickly from generation to generation that the choices we have and the way those choices play out for women today often look radically different from the way those very same decisions played out only a generation earlier. We don’t have a template to follow…”

Those on the front lines can confirm that returning to work is not easy. Robin Legator, a Direct Hire Consultant at Aquent in the Chicago area, has seen the difficulties in her recruiting work. “I think it’s very hard for women to re-enter the workplace unless they go to work for smaller, local companies. I think women constantly have to reinvent themselves and justify why they stayed home,” she said.

Laura Morgan, founder of MorganHR and a Human Resources consultant with 30 years of experience, recognized this issue for women returning to the work force and created Auxin Group. “I realized there was a large pool of educated and experienced women who were eager to get back to work,” she said, adding, “With a little training and exposure, I knew we could put them on the path to career (re)engagement.”

Auxin programs cover everything from tutorials on the latest technology that’s common in the workplace to advice on interviewing to developing teamwork and leadership skills. In addition, Auxin Associates have opportunities to test their newly polished abilities on complex, multi-layered projects so they can demonstrate to potential employers they are ready to re-enter.