University of California Haas School of Business Working Paper
Some of the most highly regarded professional careers, such as those in the medical and legal fields, may provide the most flexible environments for female professionals interested in continuing to work after having children. The authors of this study tracked the careers of nearly 1,000 female Harvard University undergraduate alumnae, gathering data from reunion questionnaires 10 and 15 years after graduation about education, career, and family choices. For those graduates who had children, the study found that the flexibility of the work environment played a larger role in the decision to remain in the workforce than any other variable. Fifteen years after graduation, 94 percent of the women with a medical degree continued working, compared to 79 percent with a law degree, 72 percent with an MBA, and 69 percent with no graduate degree. Fields such as consulting and finance, which are not typically considered flexible environments, saw more mothers who had earned their MBAs leave their jobs. The majority of medical doctors who had children, however, continued to work in family-friendly fields with flexible work hours, such as family medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology.
Women are more likely to stay in the workforce after having a child if flexible policies are considered the norm, not the exception.