Losing Key Talent? Give Executive Women More Choices

Because more professional women are waiting to have children, companies need to be more creative in the benefits they offer

Posted on Winning the Talent War: September 17, 2007 at 11:41 AM.

Five of the current crop of Presidential contenders have small children. Brownback, Dodd, Edwards, Obama and Thompson collectively have 10 children under 10. The New York Times recently tallied them up, noting that six of these children had dads deep into their sixties.

I don't begrudge these seemingly dedicated dads their scrumptious, late-in-life children, I just wish these choices were more available to women.

The data is quite startling. A survey of high-echelon professionals we conducted at the Center for Work Life Policy shows that a large number of successful women fail to have children—a third of high-achieving professional women are childless at age 40. Indeed, the more a woman earns and the more prestigious her job, the less likely she is to have either a partner or a child. In the executive suite fully 42% of women are childless.

The reverse is true for men. The more a man earns, the more prestigious his job, the more likely it is that he has many wives and many children. Like Chris Dodd and Fred Thompson powerful men often choose to have more than one family.

I find choice to be a key word here. What disturbs me is the large gap between what women want (86% of professional women want children) and what they get (67% succeed in having children) while for men the gap is much narrower. Seventy-nine percent of professional men want children, fully 75% succeed in having them.

Employers are beginning to take these issues seriously. Increasingly, benefits packages include generous help on the fertility front—understanding that career women who have delayed child-bearing might need some serious help on this front. But professional women seem eager to push the envelope further. In a recent interview, a female investment banker told me, "Egg freezing is where I'm at. I would jump ship any day for an employer who would help me freeze my eggs."

Help on the egg freezing front may well be the next new thing in terms of a knock-your-socks off benefit that retains female talent. Extend Fertility, a start-up company based in Boston now offers egg retrieval and egg freezing services to career women intent on extending their window of fertility. The costs of these services are eye-catching: $15,000 for egg retrieval and $400 per year for egg freezing.

Too expensive to be taken seriously by employers? Perhaps not. The costs of egg freezing pale in comparison to the costs associated with losing key talent. Losing a high performing woman can easily run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Is your company offering fertility assistance—or anything else—to offer more choices to its female employees?

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