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A Message to Employers: Hire A “Returner”

hiring management susan rietano davey

Recently, I’ve had a number of male clients ask me how to bring more woman-leaders into their organizations. I don’t care that this might be a knee-jerk response to current events; I’m just thrilled to have the conversation. “Want to bring more women into your organization?“ I ask them. “Try recruiting at a PTO meeting.”

A 2015 Women in the Workplace study conducted by LeanIn.Org and management consulting firm McKinsey found that 43% of leadership-track women derail themselves for child-rearing at some point; 90% of them with the intention of returning. During their opt-out years, these women channel the drive and skills they developed in the corporate world into their volunteer work running organizations like school PTOs.

But, unfortunately, when they’re ready to get back in the game, résumé gaps and related biases make it difficult for them to land. I know; I was one of these moms.

I was fortunate to begin my career in a Fortune 50 tech company where I enjoyed a challenging and financially rewarding career in the mid-80s to mid-90s. My good performance led to bonuses, promotions, and fast-track opportunities – and I reveled in it. Until that is, I had my first baby.

Suddenly, my career goals were in conflict with my maternal instincts. With no flexible work options at my level, I was faced – like so many women then, and still today – with the “all or nothing” choice to work 60 hours a week, or quit and stay home. I chose the latter and became part of the female brain drain that plagued (and still plagues) the U.S. workplace. Like many before and after me, I dove deep into volunteer work and gained new and valuable skills and experience in community organizations like, yes, my children’s school’s PTO.

I like to think that if I had returned to my company, one with an impressive record of promoting women into senior leadership roles, I would have earned my way into a senior spot. Instead of waiting to test that theory, however, I joined a firm to help others like me return to flexible work in companies that value their skills and experience, and don’t care that they opted out temporarily.

I learned a lot from my clients at Flexible Resources, most notably that once they overcame their reluctance and hired that slightly “rusty” candidate, they realized they had tapped into something special – and they came back for more. This is why:

– “Returners” are eager – they come to the workforce with a renewed energy and passion for work

– They have finely honed skills and executive experience plus valuable volunteer and community experience;

– They are motivated as much by challenge and intellectual stimulation as they are by money, making them more curious and engaged than the average worker;*

– Hiring managers recognize them as being the best and most productive hires;*

– The majority of them have deep roots in their communities and a commitment to a school system for their children making them a stable talent pool less likely to be seeking relocation the way, say, millenials with few geographical ties often are;

– Do the math: based on the statistics above, there are millions of Returners in the U.S. alone. Ignoring this demographic, especially in a tight labor market, is just plain stupid!

So, executives and hiring managers, pay attention:

There’s a brilliant, untapped source of talent you’ve been ignoring and, in some cases, driving away. Dig up that gapped résumé you tossed aside and give that mom a second look. Invite her in to interview; listen earnestly to her story – you may well be wowed.

There are some exceptional leaders in the PTO.

*anecdotal and survey data from Flexible Resources, Inc.

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