Once again mainstream media got it wrong, wrong, wrong about women and work. This time it's a study by the Simmons School of Management in Boston showing highly educated career women aren't dunking careers as so much detritus once babies come along. Quite the contrarythey are making more use of flextime and working while parenting.
An October 2003 article claimed Ivy League women, would-be female captains of industry, swooned like sirens to the romance of children and cast aside all ambition to become full-time homemakers. It was called "The Opt-Out Revolution," but it would more aptly have been titled "The Opt-Out Delusion: Erroneous Promotion of a Trend That Never Existed."
Several fact-based studies have since debunked this myth, including this week's study from Simmons showing that "more than 90 percent of the women surveyed have used some kind of flexible work arrangements during their careers; 88 percent of them used flexible work arrangements at some point in their careers to remain employed full time while managing complex lives."
Unfortunately, like a raging virus, the original opt-out story contagiously spread through mainstream media, on newspaper front pages, in magazine cover stories, in primetime TV, and especially in the blogosphere. It became an urban myth. In the process, some career women who didn't stay home full time expressed guilt. Worse yet, employers' worst suspicions that they would spend precious resources hiring and promoting young, married, highly educated women only to have them drop out heightened. We still don't have data to determine whether the Opt-Out Delusion increased workplace bias and set back this key demographic group.
Like the erroneous 1986 Newsweek cover story that claimed a single woman over 40 sported a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than finding a husband, the Opt-Out Revolution now deserves a retraction as prominent as its debut. Otherwise, the damage it caused may not be undone for a long time to come.