New efforts to retain female employees

Corporate America is taking a new step forward in efforts to keep their employees, especially women. The latest solution to the problem of declining employee retention rates is extended leaves of absence, some as long as five years.

Programmes are most common in areas like finance and accounting, where women have made major inroads in recent years. These workers are valuable due to their experience and the investment companies make in training them:

  • The rate of working mothers with young children is declining – from 59 percent of new mothers in 1998 to 55 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

  • More than one-quarter of women who plan to have children think they will stop working for more than a few months, according to a survey of about 3,500 workers.

  • Higher retention rates can save employers money – for instance, prominent accounting firm Deloitte and Touche LLP said its existing flexibility programmes saved the company $41.5 million in turnover costs in fiscal 2003.

    Beginning in 2004, Deloitte plans to allow workers to take an unpaid leave of up to five years. International Business Machines Corp. has long allowed workers to take leaves of up to three years. According to a recent IBM work-life survey, the programme has helped to retain workers:

  • 59 percent of recent leave-takers said that if their request for time hadn't been approved, they would have left the company completely.

  • While open to both sexes, 80 percent of those using the programme have been women, and the most common reason cited for taking a leave is "parenting."

    IBM's leave is unpaid, but workers retain their health benefits. Though they are not guaranteed their old jobs when they return, IBM makes an effort to get them something comparable.

    Source: Anne Marie Shaker, Luring Moms Back to Work, Wall Street Journal, December 30, 2003.

    For WSJ text (subscription required),,SB107274614321797700,00.html

    For more on Women in the Economy

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 20 January 2004
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