Opting In.

New York Times writer Lisa Belkin ignited a firestorm in October 2003 with her piece "The Opt-Out Revolution," about high-achieving career women who left their careers to be at-home parents. This past week, Belkin was back, touting a bookend to her controversial article. This time, in her piece entitled "After Baby, Boss Comes Calling" Belkin dissected what happens when at-home moms try to opt back in to the workforce.

After weeks of media and blogosphere hullabaloo over Leslie Bennetts' assertions in her book The Feminine Mistake that women who do anything short of full-time employment once they become mothers are risking career and financial suicide, it was Belkin's turn to weigh on women and their work. In fact, the "Today Show" featured both Bennetts and Belkin - seated right next to one another - on a segment during Mother's Day weekend entitled, "Why are moms giving up careers?" A few days later, Belkin appeared on "Today" again, this time with author Sylvia Ann Hewlett, who wrote Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping Talented Women On the Road to Success, saying that while there are many obstacles faced and penalties borne by women who leave paid employment, there's a small, but fledgling "opt-in" movement.

Over the years, critics have lambasted Belkin's original "Opt-Out" article for many reasons ranging from the people on whom she focused - high achieving graduates of prestigious colleges - to not focusing enough on the fact that women are oftentimes forced out of their workplaces because their jobs and employers present work conditions that are inhospitable to work-life balances. (To be fair, her 2003 piece did explain how the women quoted in the article arrived at their decisions to leave, many of whom said their departure was a direct result of inflexible workplaces.) "Belkin gave short shrift to the potential barriers to reentry and the economic vulnerability of women who depend on husbands to support them, let alone the long-term implications of that choice," Bennetts wrote in The Feminine Mistake.

But with her new article, Belkin seems to have heard her critics' complaints loud and clear. In her May 17 Times piece entitled, "After Baby, Boss Comes Calling," Belkin did not sugar-coat the impact of stepping off the career track, but did offer optimism that women may not always pay substantial penalties for gaps in paid employment in the future, particularly when the Baby Boomers retire and employers will need skilled employees.
". . . [N]ow it is time for another phrase, 'opting back in,' a term that . . . reflects the growing acceptance by business of a nonlinear career," Belkin wrote. "It's a movement that's still in its infancy. And it is hard to separate lip-service by companies from true commitment for the moment. But should it take hold - should the stopping and starting, the ramping down and revving back up of a career become the norm - it would transform the workplace."