I know press releases are not often reflective of reality. That said, I'm really annoyed with a press release issued on January 16, by the Simmons School of Management (SOM). It was called, "Most Women Aren't 'Opting Out' of the Work Force, Simmons Study Finds: Women are Leading the Way to a New Career Model, Authors Say."
The SOM press release said the study examined how many women were leaving the workforce during different points in their careers, why they made certain career choices, and how they tried to manage a work-life balance. The take-away: positive. Just don't think that their sample was representative of women, or even regular college-educated women. The findings were based on "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."
Talk about a small slice of reality. But that was not all. The full study footnotes admit that their sample set was very skewed towards the positive findings that they reported:
The sample was described as "highly qualified women" who had a college degree with honors or a graduate degree. The SOM sample could be defined as "professional women who have chosen to remain employed full-time." Given that the U.S. Department of Labor states that 75% of employed women in 2005 worked full-time, the SOM sample over-represented these women. Given that 33% of women aged 25-64 held college degrees in 2004...[the] sample over-represented these women.
Women are not opting out of the workforce in droves, said lead study author Professor Mary Shapiro of the Simmons School of Management, in the press release. "It's a myth--based on a handful of anecdotes in the popular press about white, high-income women," Shapiro said. But based on their own skewed sample, are the SOM findings spreading a myth of their own? It too is based on a handful of anecdotes from white ("Given the expected demographics of the population from which we were drawing our sample, we recognized that we would have a small percentage of women of color to study") and high income (average salary: $116,000) women.
So which is a bigger myth? The opting out? Or the study findings?
The SOM survey cited improvements over a 2005 Hewlett and Luce study. For example, SOM said "less than half the number in our survey left the workforce temporarily." Since I don't have the H&L study to look at, it's hard to know if things improved that drastically in one year. If the sample sets were similar, this would be a big improvement. But if the H&L sample included a larger demographic, would there still be a positive trend?
I would like nothing more than to find out that women are getting more flexibility from their employers. But it is difficult to know what is real when press releases are perpetrating more myths. To be fair, if over time, this particular study finds that this particular subset of women is getting more flexibility from their employers, that is great. At that point, we can hope that those benefits trickle down to all women.