Like most people, I had heard of the glass ceiling, but I ran into the glass wall first. The glass wall is tricky, because it's unidirectional. You can step out of the workforce pretty easily, but when you try to re-enter a few years later, you slam right into it. You can see these great jobs for which you are exquisitely qualified on the other side of the glass, but you can't get through. Oddly enough, the employers on the other side of the glass - the ones gnashing their teeth over the lack of good talent - can't seem to see you clamoring to get back in.
But you have an M.B.A., or a law degree, or something equally impressive. You have great experience. You shouldn't have any trouble getting back in, right? Well, no, not necessarily. I have a law degree. I had experience in employment law. I had even presented on the topic. But I couldn't even get an interview for an associate-level job in employment law (a fairly small niche specialty) when I tried to get back in. I had experience working with the Civil Rights Commission, but couldn't get an interview for a job with the city that involved working with the Civil Rights Commission because I didn't have a degree in sociology. As one woman said to me, "What the hell does sociology have to do with determining whether someone has a legal cause of action?"
Women who step out of the workforce (and we do it more often than men - to care for children or ailing parents) not only may find it difficult to get back in, but they take a long-term hit in terms of earnings. They often have to take a lower salary or position to get back in, which is one factor affecting the wage gap between male and female workers.
The cost to businesses in terms of turnover, and the cost to women and their families in terms of the hit on their lifetime earnings is significant, not to mention largely unnecessary.
In the upcoming weeks, I'll be writing about creating a win-win-win for women (and men) who step out, small businesses and large organizations. I'll offer strategies for workers who are thinking of stepping out, as well as those who already have. We'll take a look at how small businesses may be able to access the talent of these women while they are technically out of the workforce, and I'll offer ways that large organizations can recruit great talent they may be overlooking, retain the talent they already have, and recapture formerly "lost" talent when women are ready to return.
Because if we can't get past the glass wall, we'll never even see the glass ceiling.
Editor's note: This is the first in a four-part series from Jean Baker on re-entering the workforce. The remaining installments will be published in subsequent editions of Lift IOWA.
Jean Baker has taken the "scenic route" in her career, having practiced law, run a nonprofit and served as a financial representative before starting her consulting business, Jean M. Baker & Associates. Running through it all has been the common thread of women's advocacy and business. She has made presentations on a number of topics, including diversity, the effect of domestic violence on a business's bottom line and the need for women to be financially literate. Baker has also served as a court-appointed special advocate, a member of the Friends of the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women, a mock trial judge (college level), and she accompanies the second- and third-grade choirs at Plymouth Church.