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The crazy lengths companies will go to hire and retain high-level women

By Jason Freely / a few months ago
The crazy lengths companies will go to hire and retain high-level women

Companies that have both men and women in high-level positions see improvements in productivity, innovation, safety, and profitability. Yet the number of women with jobs at the top is still decreasing.

You know why you would not want one of those jobs: 80-hour weeks, monthly travel, other people raising your children. But I wonder if you know the incredible lengths a company will go to attract and keep a woman who has reached a top position. These are stories I hear from women I coach and companies who hire me to recruit the type of women I coach.

Coaching client: Managing director in investment banking in NYC.

Three weeks after the third baby, the nanny quit. The nanny was supposed to raise the kids til they went to college. But instead, in an unprompted exit interview from hell, the nanny said the house is chaos, the parents don’t get home on time and the family needs two full-time nannies and a chef if they want someone to stay in the job long-term.

Her husband was a deer in headlights. He hated managing one nanny so much as a stay-at-home dad that he went back to work. The idea of coordinating two nannies was too much. Managing two nannies, a housekeeper and now a chef—it’s a part-time job in itself.

She told her boss she was thinking of leaving. Word got out and three other banks offered her a job. Her boss told her if she would stay she could have any job she wanted. The firm would give her whatever accommodations she needs. They really need her to stay.

She quit so she could be home with kids.

Coaching client: Woman on track to be a partner at top NYC law firm.

When she had her first baby she got really efficient, but it didn’t matter because her firm runs on billable hours. The more efficient she got the better a deal her clients got. Her family never benefitted from her efficiency. By the second child, even with a stay-at-home husband, she had had enough. She never saw her first baby and she didn’t want that to happen with the second one.

She moved her family out of NYC and became an in-house lawyer at a company in Georgia. But she found that she was getting paid half as much money to do more than 3/4 of the workload she had before.

When she told her old boss the situation, he asked her to come back. She said she had to work remotely and she couldn’t go to the office every day. She wanted to be with her kids. He said fine.

Her husband is a stay-at-home dad, but she’s at home all the time, with very flexible hours. The firm makes sure clients assume she is in NYC. She goes to meetings in NYC once a month if there’s no way around it. At a recent performance review, her boss asked what she’d like to work toward next.

Her thought was: Nowhere. I just want to keep making this much money and being with my family. But she said, “I’d like to be work toward being made Council.”

The partner said, “Okay. You’re council.”

Certainly everyone in the law firm knows she’s can work remotely because she’s a woman. And now everyone knows she was made Council because she’s a woman. She doesn’t care. She says they would do it in a heartbeat for another woman at her level, but there aren’t any.

Recruiting client: Company looking for someone to lead a department of 75 engineers.

I don’t do a lot of recruiting, but often I get hired when the candidate is a very high-level woman. It’s a specialized talent to be able to talk her into taking the job, and I can help a company do that. Mostly because I know all the reasons why women don’t want high-level jobs. The board is getting called out for having no senior women so this position has to go to a woman. When the search went nowhere the company announced there is basically no salary cap.

Still, no takers.

Recruiting client: Company drowning under a pile of resumes for marketing VP.

The company wants a woman in this role. (Probably so the company doesn’t have to find a woman for the role of engineering  VP.) I look through the stack and I’m surprised to see almost every woman has listed at some point on her resume “Time off for children.” Apparently, HR sees this all the time. No one cares. As long as the woman wants to reenter the workforce, HR wants them.

I chose two women to interview. Both are super qualified, and both were absolute masters of the interview process.

But it turned out that each will continue staying home with their kids. I can understand that. I used to apply for jobs just to make sure I could still get one. Maybe one of them will start an interview coaching business.

Me: Why am I writing this anyway?

I spend a lot of time asking myself why I stopped giving speeches for $15,000 a pop. I told myself it doesn’t make sense to say no: even if I hate getting dressed up and getting on a plane, I can do one speech a month and it would be a good way to make money.

I called someone who used to book me a lot. He booked me in three hours. The world of top speakers is mostly men, and people are always looking for high-level female speakers. The date was five months away. I told myself that by then I’d be used to the idea of travel for work.

I didn’t get used to the idea. Because I don’t want to disrupt my kids’ days so that I can make a lot of money. But I did worry a lot that my decision was intellectually lame or spoiled of me or indulgent toward my kids or something else bad.

Hearing that other women gave up great opportunities makes me relieved. This is something that makes sense, on many levels, and that’s why the offers people make to women are so off-the-charts in generosity and flexibility. I wish I understood my situation better, though. I wonder: am I like the woman who keeps working because the job is relatively cushy or am I the woman who interviews with little intention of actually taking a job.

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