Now they want back in.
So these highly educated women are going back to school to figure out just how to achieve that.
At the University of Toronto, the Rotman School of Management has created the Back to Work Program for Women in Business. The program requirements say it's aimed at women who:
- Are flexible, adaptable self-starters with sound judgment and learning agility;
- Have the ability to work independently, with effective time management and communication skills (verbal and written).
Senior management consultant Sarah Luke says she tried getting back into the workforce on her own, but ran into difficulty.
"I've been off for seven years," she says. "For the last two years, since the birth of my third child, I've been thinking of getting going again. But after going through a couple of interviews I realized how rusty I was feeling. It makes you re-evaluate. You think, 'Maybe I'm not relevant anymore.' So this program is for me, to help me get back in the game."
The Rotman course involves about 10 days of class time spread over three months, and covers a range of topics - from refreshing management skills to training in new online tools.
The Back to Work Program also helps match candidates up with people working in related industries so they can meet potential mentors and employers, and encourages networking between the women taking the course.
The 30 women accepted this year - of all ages and backgrounds - are bursting with excitement and trepidation as they try to make the leap back into the world of work.
"I've been out of the workforce for nine years,raising my three beautiful children, and I feel like now it's time to concentrate on me for a little bit," says electrical engineer Anika Mahmud. "I'm nervous about being able to get back into adult language - I've been speaking kid language for nine years. I hope that I don't end up stalling in an adult interaction, or an important meeting."
"I'm away from the routine," adds Marina Maroumian, a banking and foreign aid consultant. "That's the most important thing. It's been killing me - I need to get back to work and feel proud.
"I was so happy when I worked, when I could see results," she says. "I want to use my potential to the fullest. I missed that a lot - almost every day. But I also thought it was important to be with my family for that time."
She admits that getting back into the workforce is a daunting prospect. "I'm a little bit scared because with the new technology I am little behind. But I have the skills. I know I can do the work."
"I'm mostly worried about not being taken seriously as a professional, that having taken time off means that I don't have ambition," says investment banker Susan Balgopal. "That's not true for me. I actively chose to take time off. Now I'm actively choosing to pursue my career again."
Biochemist Silja Yates has similar feelings.
"I'm looking forward to being with other moms who have the same nervous feeling about getting back to business, the reassurance that the kids will be fine," she says. "When you're at home you lose confidence in who you are. You empty the dishwasher and you do the laundry and your previous life doesn't exist anymore. My sister in Germany tells me there are two camps, the ones that stay at home and the ones who work, and they are really not nice to each other. They don't support each other."
Balgopal adds that her children are are as excited as she is. "When I explained what I was doing, they said 'Does that mean we get to go to the daycare at school?' They wanted to! Which I would not have guessed."
Listen to the full audio documentary on the Rotman program on The Sunday Edition's , or in the link at the top of this page.