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Innovative program helps women leave but stay connected

published August 28, 2006

Michael Kinsman
( 8 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
Yet, the big accounting, auditing and consulting firm discovered that when it came time to promote individuals to partners after a few years of work, only 7 percent of the candidates were women.

"We knew something must be wrong," says Anne Weisberg, senior adviser of Deloitte's Women's Initiative, a program started at the company's New York headquarters to help with the retention and advancement of female employees.

Deloitte has a wide range of work-life benefits, but it's never been able to solve the nagging issue of what to do about women who want to spend time at home raising young children. As these women leave, the pool of women who could climb into management ranks at the 120,000-employee company is sharply reduced.

"It's something that always stumped us," Weisberg says.

In March, Deloitte introduced its Personal Pursuits program, designed to keep women connected to the company even if they postpone their careers for up to five years at a time.

Though it can be used by men and women alike, Deloitte admits the program targets women and how to keep their professional lives afloat.

Under the program, an employee may quit a job at Deloitte but maintain a relationship with the company through semiannual contact with Deloitte mentors and access to training. In return, Deloitte carries the costs of continuing the former employee's professional licensing.

Deloitte had a pilot program in place for 18 months, before unveiling its formal program in March. Currently, 29 Deloitte workers are on leave and five others are in the application process.

"These people have to quit their jobs, but we are giving them an option of coming back to the company at a later time," Weisberg says. "We like to think of it as an option they have and something that allows us to stay connected to people we have invested in and have relationships with."

The company hopes its flexibility results in savings on the costs of recruiting and training new employees.

Amber Marsowicz, a senior audit manager who worked for Deloitte for nine years, is one of those who has taken advantage of the program. Marsowicz went on leave to care for her newborn daughter 16 months ago, and when it was time to return to work in March, she found herself pregnant with a second child.

"I didn't think they would like it too much if I came back for a few months and then left again," she says.

Marsowicz considered part-time employment or a flexible work schedule but decided that the best thing was to concentrate on her young family. So she quit her job and intends to spend the next five years raising her children before returning to Deloitte.

"I know that the industry may change over that time, but that's why you stay connected to the company," she says. "You know when changes happen. You may not know the ins and outs of them, but you are at least comfortable with them."

Weisberg says the Deloitte program is all about retaining talented workers.

"We know that it's hard to reconnect with women once they leave our company," she says. "This way we can keep that connection. These are people who have already proven themselves with Deloitte and in whom the company has invested. They're a known quantity.

"We have based our business case around talent management. Talent is our only asset. We need to do whatever we can to hold on to that talent."

Virginia Byrd, a California career and work-life consultant, said Deloitte is addressing an issue that many companies have ignored.

"It's a big issue to keeping women in the work force," she says. "It really does effect the economy, because when women don't get this flexibility and drop out, it's a kind of brain drain."

It also gives Deloitte an advantage in competing for talent, Byrd says.

"Other companies are going to have to catch up, unless they are willing to give up on talent. But that doesn't sound like a very good idea, does it?"

© Copley News Service

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