A few weeks ago, I was privileged to attend the Type A Parent Conference on behalf of the Shot@Life Initiative. While there I met (as I usually do at these conferences) an incredible array of dynamic women. What struck me mid-way through the first day was how many of these women had worked what might be considered “high-power” corporate careers and left those careers to raise children.
But rather than focus solely on childrearing, the majority of the women I talked to ran active consulting businesses and other entrepreneurial efforts – work they could fit around their parenting duties. When I asked what led them to start their own businesses, invariably the answer was “flexibility and autonomy”.
More women might stay in the workforce if they had more job flexibility.
Any parent knows how crucial flexibility is not just when the kids are small but through the teen years. And while American companies are becoming increasingly enlighted the reality is that it’s very tough to work a demanding job and raise a family. Over the course of my 15 year career, I’ve encountered more than a number of women who chose to leave their careers to stay home to care for their children.
Now there are many compelling reasons to take time off of work from wanting to be there for your child during her formative years to saving on child care costs. Because let’s face it, when childcare costs outstrip the salary of one parent, it often doesn’t make economic sense for both parents to work.
But I have a concern that with so many talented and highly educated women leaving the workplace, non-profit organizations, educational instiutions and corporations are missing out on incredible talent.
Our country’s antiquated family leave policies combined with the lack of flexibility of most companies, leave many women with no choice but to leave and create careers that works for themselves and their families.
If a woman were to ask my advice about temporarily leaving the workforce to raise children, I’d tell her Don’t Drop Out. Power Down.
Powering down might look like going from full-time to half time. It might mean job sharing. Or it could mean doing a 40 hour week in four days.
It means keeping one foot in the door of the labor force while creating a career that is flexible enough to accommodate your family needs.
If you are an employee in good standing, first try and negotiate a more flexible arrangement before quitting. Employers hate to lose top talent and you may be able to create a schedule that’s a win-win for you both. I have agreed to several such situations for employees in my own department and it’s worked beautifully.
I’m also seeing a trend where women are leaving their organizations, incoporating themselves as consultants and then contracting with their former employers and securing other clients. I think this is a smart alternative for women looking to stay in the workforce but who need more job flexibility.
Be warned there is a downside to doing this. Leaving your job and working as a contractor or consultant means missing out on benefits such as healthcare, flexible spending accounts and 401(k) contributions. It means the potential loss of steady monthly income. But in return you gain autonomy and flexibility to fit work around family obligations.
You gain the ability to do work on your schedule and not someone else’s.
At Type A, I met a fabulous woman who was a brand consultant. She had held executive-level marketing positions at several Blue Chip companies but decided to power down her career so she could spend more time with her two children.
Over the course of several years, she built a very successful brand consulting practice working with small and medium-sized businesses.
When the Great Recession hit, she scaled back her business and focused on her kids. Now that the economy is coming back she has more clients but is able to manage them around a schedule that fits her lifestyle.
Why power down? There is a cost to leaving the workforce if you think might want to break back in one day.
Over the last few months I’ve interviewed numerous women who’ve decided to return to work after an extended hiatus. Not surprisingly, they are having a hard time finding jobs. Considering the market is already glutted with highly qualified people who have been laid off in the last few years, it’s not a shock their job searches are taking many, many months.
Competition for every job opening has gotten tougher. Case in point, I recently posted a position for a Director-level position and received over 200 applications.
And while it’s not fair, some employers don’t look favorably on women who voluntarily leave the workforce. All the more reason to think hard about quitting your job if you think you may want to return to work in the future.
Need a few other compelling reasons to consider powering down rather than dropping out?
Maintain your competitive edge.
If you’ve been out of the workforce for awhile some employers won’t see you as competitive as other candidates. They fear your skills have become obsolete, that you’ve forgotten how to work in a team-based setting, or that you just won’t work very hard. The list goes on.
Whether you’ve powered down or taken a hiatus, it’s critical to keep up with your industry (and take a class or two if needed). When you are ready to jump back in with both feet, you can then demonstrate your skills are current and you are knowledgeable about the trends and issues driving your field.
Keep your network intact.
It’s far easier to keep your network intact if you keep your foot in the door. Sure school and community volunteer efforts can lead to job leads and contacts, but nothing beats keeping up with your professional network. If you do power down your career, try to maintain your professional association memberships. Attend a conference every now and then so you can continue to expand your circle of influence. Maintaining an active professional network will pay dividends if and when you decide to go back to work full time.
Ensure you stay mentally sharp.
There is something to be said for continuing to challenge yourself intellectually, working or not. The professional women I know who opted to jump off track for a few years are incredibly smart, gifted and all around talented individuals. To a woman they all said the thing they missed the most about working full-time was the intellectual stimulation.
Of course there are lots of ways to keep your your analytical skills sharp from reading trade publications, part-time consulting, guest lecturing at your local college or university, and certainly volunteering.
These days there is more good news for women opting to power down. More companies are using part-time, contract and temporary services which means there are far more opportunities to create your own business and build a roster of clients who will gladly pay for your skills and expertise.
Despite all of the gloom and doom about the job market today, there may be no better time than now to start your own business, get paid to do what you love all while giving your family the attention they deserve.
So what do you think? Are you thinking about quitting your job to stay home full time? Or have you made a choice to power down your career? If you have done so already, what has been your experience? Would you do it again and what would you advise other women who were considering doing the same? I want hear from you!