I met Sylvia Ann Hewitt at a leadership summit in California in May of 2006. She is a fantastic speaker with sharp presence. She was there to promote her book and also to speak to women managers and leaders about the topic of her book. I had a special invite to the event, and she happened to sit at my table. She was warm and sincere, and signed my book. I enjoyed her company.
As to the book, “Off-ramps and On-ramps” is about handling various challenges in a woman’s career path. The on-ramp represents being full-force on a career path, and off-ramp represents taking a break for a number of reasons, be it a sabbatical, a leave of absence or a permanent departure from the corporate world. Understanding these shifts in a woman’s career pace and their impact on the workforce that we leave behind is the core of Hewitt’s message.
The book comprises two main parts:
- In the first half, she outlines the general difficulties and discrimination women may face upon returning from the national average 18 month break they take from their job. During this short period in a woman’s career, Hewitt emphasizes on the brevity of this break, and that these women do not lose all talents and skills built over a lifetime. The economic and socioeconomic conditions as well as the priorities of the company may have well undergone changes; therefore there will naturally be a period of re-familiarization. However, the fear of losing the skills and talents is misguided and only provides a disservice to the company and the women.
- The second half of the book focuses on her proposals for a solution. One of her proposals is to create a new framework and model based on flexibility, job-sharing, telecommuting and other options to keep talent retention of these women to a minimum. She follows with case studies on how these can be beneficial to the current situation.
I noticed that most of the case studies in the book were done in the large investment banking industry, followed second by legal and third by medical industries. The numbers of these case studies ranged from 800 to 1500, and while this is a good sample size, it hardly represents the vast majority of companies and geographies, since Hewitt keeps most of her focus to the Manhattan Island region and the Wall street business world in particular.
In a nutshell, aside from her reference to some of the programs in support of women’s career breaks and the general awareness of the current conditions in her opinion, I did not enjoy this book very much. Perhaps it was naive to read such a book for the purpose of enjoyment. What I mean with enjoying is in the business appreciation sense – to become aware of an issue that may not be clear before the author brings it into light and to be enthusiastic about a way to solve the issue. It is also possible that I cannot relate, at least not yet; in my 10+ year career in the technology world, I have been in charge of my own career and have not worked hard to keep obstacles from putting me at a disadvantage. Ironically enough, I have often been in a position where I have had to pick up the tasks and projects of these women who took a break for whatever reason, and then returned to assume their original position.
Reading is the best pastime for an active mind! If you like to see the other book reviews, check the index of In Print.
I firmly believe that if you should leave your position for any extended period of time, the business must move on and it shall with or without you – and it should afford opportunities to those who make their careers a priority. It is a difficult race to succeed, and while it does not need to be a zero sum game, there are consequences for leaving a career behind to tend to other personal priorities.
In summary, I would not highly recommend this book and I did not unfortunately take away from it as much as I had hoped. I can only say with confidence that Sylvia Ann Hewitt is an inspiring speaker with great poise and style, and I’d like to listen to her speak again.