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January 16, 2007
Study: Women Aren't 'Opting Out' of the Work Force

An author of a new study says recent reports of women opting out of the workforce in large numbers are inaccurate.

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Professor Mary Shapiro of the Simmons School of Management in Boston says her study found the great majority of professional women are negotiating flexible work arrangements as a way to remain in the workplace, while continuing to see their incomes grow.

"It's a myth--based on a handful of anecdotes in the popular press about white, high-income women--that women are opting out of the workforce in droves," says Shapiro. "It's also notable that the women in our study who used flexible work arrangements did not sacrifice financial success, when compared to those who didn't use flexible work options."

The study found that more than 90 percent of the women surveyed have used some kind of flexible work arrangements during their careers; 88 percent of them used flexible work arrangements at some point in their careers to remain employed full time while managing complex lives.

The study found that a woman is twice as likely to use a flexible work arrangement that keeps her employed full-time than one that entails part-time employment.

The women surveyed who used flexible work arrangements reported that their incomes were no different than those of women who did not employ flexible work arrangements. More than 85 percent of the women were responsible for at least half of their household incomes.

The findings were from an online survey of more than 400 middle- and senior-level professional women from around the nation with an average of 20 years' work experience from across the business and non-profit spectrum, who attended the 2006 Simmons School of Management Leadership Conference in Boston .

Conducted by the Simmons School of Management in collaboration with Hewlett-Packard, the survey examined to what extent women were leaving the work force, why they make their career decisions, and how they manage work/life balance.

The women reported negotiating flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting, flexible hours, and a limitation on traveling or evening work at various points in their careers, as their primary ways to continue working while managing busy lives outside of work.

Previous studies have said that 37 percent of U.S. women have voluntarily stopped working; in the Simmons/HP study, 18 percent had done so.

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