In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, “off-ramping” is when someone decides to take a “time-out” from work, often for the purpose of childcare. To be familiar with this term is especially important nowadays, as both employers and employees are struggling to strike the ideal balance with work and family. Of course, off-ramping has disproportionate negative effects on woman.

Although the long-term penalty for women who decide to off-ramp has always been grim, the situation has worsened since the recession, according to shocking statistics in this press release from the Center for Work Life Policy.

Some of the findings include (see here for the full list):

  • 73% of women trying to return to the workforce after a voluntary timeout for childcare or other reasons have trouble finding a job.
  • Those who do return lose 16% of their earning power and over a quarter report a decrease in their management responsibilities and 22% had to step down to a lower job title.
  • A full 69% of women say they wouldn’t have off-ramped if their companies had offered flexible work options such as reduced-hour schedules, job sharing, part-time career tracks or short unpaid sabbaticals.
  • Although 89% of off-ramped women want to resume their careers, only 40% successfully return to full-time work.

I think there are many women out there who, like me, want to stay engaged and challenged in the workforce after having children. This isn’t to say that they’re gunning for the top position… at least not right now. The increased hours at most jobs today is hardly sustainable when we hold an uneven share of family childcare and household responsibilities–and that subjects us to a sort of ultimatum, where we have to choose. What we want is the option to better balance work and life, to be able to prioritize rather than sacrifice.

So how can companies retain women or help those who have off-ramped re-launch their careers?

  • Provide alternatives – temporary flextime or part-time opportunities that keep off-ramped women on their career track
  • Create flextime work options over the arc of a career and combat the stigma associated with it
  • Re-imagine work-life balance
  • Help women claim and sustain ambition

“As women experience difficulty getting back on the career track, confidence and ambition stall, and many women end up downsizing their dreams,” says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, one of the authors of the study and a founder of the Center of the Work-Life Policy. “Off-ramps and on-ramps are here to stay and employers should sit up and pay attention—or suffer the consequences of sidelining and side-swiping 58% of the highly credentialed talent pool.”

Several companies are catching on to this reality and have implemented ways to retain each and everyone of their valuable employees. Here’s a list of companies in the study who have adopted these workplace evolutions:

Accenture, American Express, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, Best Buy, Cisco Systems, Citi, Deloitte, Deutsche Bank, Ernst & Young, General Electric, General Mills, Goldman Sachs, Intel, KPMG, Moody’s, Pfizer, and Siemens.

Here’s hoping that other companies will soon follow suit!