An article at Inside Higher Ed
today discusses the many articles surrounding the studies at Yale and Princeton about women's intent to leave the workforce to care for children. Other articles written about these studies have exaggerated the numbers of women intending to leave the workforce, and so the controversy is about the interpretation of the numbers and how it depicts educated women.
When I was an MBA student at the University of Michigan, there was a great panel one Saturday afternoon about women's careers. I'll never forget one woman's description of her career that I think better describes what women do: women go through many phases of a career, not just one career, especially when children are involved. Whether a woman is highly educated or not, all parents see the value of spending as much time as possible with their young children so that the children bond with the parents and learn the values of the parents.
In our case, we made significant financial sacrifices so that I could spend a great deal of time with our children until they left for elementary school. It was also a career sacrifice for me--I gave up a "normal" career track with all that comes with it--title, income, promotional opportunities, etc., but I have the satisfaction of knowing my children and knowing that I raised them with the help of some great babysitters.
I think the dialogue about women, education and career needs to change. If companies and universities are concerned about women "dropping out" then they need to help change the paradigm. Why can't more companies offer part-time options for women with young children? Why can't this be an acceptable option for a professionally minded person who also happens to be a mother? The end result is better for everyone--children who feel loved and are raised by their parents, a more healthy respect for care-givers who help raise children, and grateful parents who are more loyal to those organizations who see them as whole people with whole lives.
Education is not something to be used up or wasted, but something to be a support throughout a woman's life, valuable for both work as mothers and work as employees.