Current employee benefit programs, particularly family-friendly benefits, would be inadequate for the workforce of the future. The experiences of midcareer professional women provide insights into the nature and implications of employee benefit program inadequacies and suggest ways to strengthen HR strategies. After a brief overview of changing labor demographics, this article describes the challenges midcareer professional women faced during midlife and expect to face in the next 10 years. Next, the individual strategies these women developed, and the relevance of these strategies to challenges they faced, are shown. The gaps between current employee benefit practices and the needs of the changing workforce are then discussed. The article concludes with issues and recommendations related to HR strategy, basic employee benefits and programs, and organizational culture.
Numerous forces shape human resource management benefits and practices, including population and labor demographics, labor laws, social pressures, unions, technology, and costs. Population and labor demographics have been and will continue to be a primary force. Shifting demographics, for example, have resulted in one of the most publicized and well-known sets of human resource management benefits and programs of the last twenty-five years: programs to benefit working parents and, more specifically, working mothers with young children.
Organizations with active programs that help address issues of work-family balance and interaction have been labeled family-friendly. Corporations and other organizations initially implemented these programs to respond to the needs of women entering the workforce in record numbers in the early 1970s, and more recently to support both working mothers and fathers trying to juggle work and a variety of family responsibilities (Conference Board, 1993). Corporations that successfully implement such programs view them as strategically advantageous because they increase the organization's ability to recruit and retain talented employees, reduce employee stress and burnout, and improve corporate image (Colvin, 1999; Hammonds, 1997; Roberts; 1996; Hirschman, 1995; Foster, 1988).
Recent labor trends have included an increase in the number of women in the workforce and in the number of working mothers (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1998, 1995). At the same time, an overall aging of the workforce has occurred and will continue, which means that organizations will employ a larger proportion of men and women at or beyond midcareer (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1998; Crampton et al., 1996; Capowski, 1994). For the first time, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, organizations employed professional women who had worked continuously since career entry, who had children and had managed a family without significant time away from the workforce (e.g., no significant part-time work or leave greater than four months), and who had achieved success beyond that experienced by the working women before them.
We interviewed 36 such women and believe that their experiences at midcareer offer important insights for HR managers and leaders. The women's common experiences, challenges, and related solutions provide an understanding of the effect of these key demographic trends-specifically the increasing number of women, working mothers, and dual-career couples, and an aging workforce-on HR management practices.
The ability of these pioneering women to achieve at the highest levels of their organizations while successfully balancing family demands encapsulates key challenges faced by many employees today.
The experiences of these women represent a glimpse into the future, and as such offer HR managers and leaders early insight into future demands for employee benefit programs.
This article first briefly describes midlife and the midcareer professional. Next it describes the midcareer professional women interviewed in our study. Then we present the challenges faced by the women at midcareer and the challenges they anticipate during the next 10 years. We next highlight the individual strategies they use to meet these challenges and address their adequacy. The article then assesses how well commonly offered organizational benefits and programs address the challenges, and then concludes by suggesting ways organizations can more effectively respond to such issues as they plan future strategies for human resources.
CHANGING WORKFORCE DEMOGRAPHICS AND MIDCAREER PROFESSIONAL WOMEN
The Hudson Institute's Workforce 2000 Report clearly established that the number of women and minorities in the workforce would continue to grow throughout the last decade of the 20th century and into the early decades of the 21st century (Johnston & Packer, 1987). Under current projections, women will be 47.4 percent of the workforce in 2007. The number of working mothers with children under the age of 18 has also continued to increase (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1998, 1995), and such women typically still provide more primary care for children than men do (Goodman, 1999). In addition to increasing numbers of women, the number of workers who are at or beyond the midcareer point is also rising significantly. Although the number of workers age 55 and over is predicted to remain relatively constant at approximately 15 percent, predictions call for the percentage of the labor force between the ages of 35 and 54 to increase to 48 percent by 2005, from 36 percent in 1975 and 42 percent in 1990. Similarly, t he number of women between the ages of 35 and 44 is projected to increase from 11.7 million in 1985 to 17.1 million in 2005 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1998). For the first time, women are at midcareer who have (1) worked continuously throughout their career (that is, without significant time away from the workforce for child bearing or parenting), (2) married and had a family, and (3) achieved positions at the highest levels of their chosen professional career.
Midcareer has been described as the period that follows the phase of establishing oneself and one's credibility and mastery in a chosen career, and precedes individual preparations for retirement (Hall, 1986). At midcareer, for example, an accountant or lawyer would have established her expertise and risen through the ranks, typically to the rank of partner. A financial services professional would have attained vice president or higher. Midcareer is characterized as a time of feeling confident about one's abilities, assessing whether career goals and dreams have been met, and determining what to do next.
Midlife has been characterized as a period of personal growth and attainment of full maturity (Moen & Wethington, 1999; Clausen, 1986; Labouvie-Vief, 1982). Researchers generally agree that the midlife stage involves an assessment and rebalancing of the personal and professional components of a person's life. Early research about midlife focused primarily on white males in professional occupations who were married and had children (McCrae & Costa, 1990; Hunter & Sundel, 1989; Farrell & Rosenberg, 1981; Lawrence, 1980; Robbins, 1979; Levinson, 1978). More recent work extended the investigation to women at midlife, although most groups studied were relatively heterogeneous and lacked a significant number of women who had families and enduring careers (Levinson, 1996; Apter, 1995; Jacobson, 1995; Marshall, 1995; Wolfe, et al., 1990; Grambs, 1989).
Women who began their careers in the 1970s reached midlife, often described as between age 35 and 50, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The women who achieved midlife during this time frame, who were married, had children, and had high career achievement represent a unique subset of working women. Often they represented a "first" in their field-the first female partner in their office, the first female department chair, the first female executive vice-president in their company. Women who preceded them in their role typically did not have children or were unmarried. The women who reached midlife in the late 1980s and early 1990s will continue to be pathbreakers as they live through midlife and approach the late life and late career stages and eventually retirement.
What characterizes career, family, and their …