The Future of Work is Flexible, and Female

Apr 27, 2017 6:45 PM ET

At SXSW 2017, one of the nation’s premier venues for new ideas, Booz Allen Executive Dee Dee Helfenstein discussed the changing workplace, the on-demand economy, and how organizations can attract and retain top talent.

While 40% of American women are the primary breadwinners for their families, the unemployment rate for mothers outpaces that for fathers by 1.5 times, with 7.3% of mothers reporting that they are unemployed. Enter the on-demand economy, which offers flexibility that allows workers to contribute professional value while continuing to act as hands-on parents.

It’s not surprising that women are flocking to these flexible, on-demand jobs. In fact, Intuit projects that 40% of the workforce will be freelance or independent by 2020 (Sources: NYT, Intuit). How can organizations that offer more traditional employment models adapt to recruit, retain, and empower talented women? This question shaped the discussion at “Innovating the Working Mom,” a panel hosted by Booz Allen senior vice president Dee Dee Helfenstein at this year’s SXSW Interactive.

“The working mom experience needs innovation—new modes of flexibility, services, and corporate norms,” Helfenstein said. “Research on the trends in the on-demand economy shows that moms are leaving corporate environments in favor of new forms of employment. To retain top talent, it’s essential for companies to find unique ways to hire and provide leadership paths for moms through flexible work arrangements.”

Leading the charge to adapt workplaces and engage more women in the workforce—particularly women with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills— is the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). This week, SWE and iRelaunch’s STEM Task Force, of which Booz Allen is a founding member, released the white paper, “An Intervention Strategy to Re-engage Women Engineers in the Workforce” that outlines the steps to grow the pipeline of talented women engineers who have left the workforce and may be ready to return.

 “Often these are women who’ve left to raise a family and now aren’t sure if they can return as engineers,” says Booz Allen senior vice president Natalie Givans, an engineer and winner of the 2016 AFCEA Women’s Appreciation Award for her efforts to further the careers of women.  

To draw women engineers back to the workforce, Booz Allen in 2016 launched an internship called the “Return-to-Work Program.” The program provides paid re-entry internships for talented, experienced engineers with high-demand skill sets—like electrical and systems engineers, and software developers/engineers—looking for a hands-on program designed to jump-start their return to the workforce. In FY2018, Booz Allen’s Return-to-Work program will focus on military spouses, who face unique challenges as they work to re-enter the workforce.

If traditional employment models begin to adopt the flexibility associated with the on-demand economy to benefit working moms, will those organizations be ahead of the curve in anticipating the needs of not just moms but also millennials, gen-Xers with aging parents, and working dads? Our answer: Yes.

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