Working Women and Careers

I recently recorded a podcast on helping women transition careers, and it made me think of a few points. We (society) still talk about women transitioning careers or advancing in work in a way in which we do not talk about men. While I believe that it has become easier for women to change careers than our mothers or grandmothers (for instance), it is still bothersome that in 2021 there is so much planning and timing around women advancing at work or completely changing careers. With the pandemic 1 in 4 women are been ready to start their own businesses and 61% of women are ready to shift careers completely. While it’s good to focus on numbers, it’s important to look at why women are changing careers or even starting their own businesses. Most reasons include not advancing in positions (which also equate to pay raises), work policies not working for caregiving women, women no longer finding passion in their work, and burnout. So let’s focus on women first. Here are some areas that many still need to consider about how they navigate career transition or advancement:

  1. Caregiving: The pandemic has really shed light on the role of working women and caregiving. While the role of men as caregivers has increased over time and become more of a norm, women still hold the trophy in that area. However, there has been a recognition that caregiving does not necessarily include children. It now includes elderly parents, community members, and extended family members. Caregiving is a role that matters greatly to career happiness and the type of new career will need to accommodate that lifestyle.
  2. Work policies:  Also known as making work “work” for women, when I look at many of the complaints women have around their jobs, it really is about policy and practice. Things such as flexible work schedules, what counts for sick leave or parental leave, and how one works (i.e. face-to-face or virtually) affects when and how a women chooses to transition careers. Even if the current career is soul-draining, if the policies allow women to function in their many roles, they are more likely to stay. Therefore, as women move on in careers, they will pay attention to policy, practice, and procedure.
  3. Education and support: In this case, I’m specifically thinking about married women, single mothers, and women who are caregivers. When it comes to switching careers, everyone finds themselves thinking about education. What I have found as the major difference when advising working versus men is that women bring entire family schedules to a session. They instantly assume (or already know) that a change in their lives will change those they care for, and they seem to be more concerned with making sure others are alright first. In this case, women who have more support and freedom to make decisions are able to choose what suits them in various areas.

Because we still live in a society that believes in the bootstrap theory, it is very easy to suggest that women figure out the issues if they are unhappy at work. However, if we look at why women are changing careers, it might be easier to think about changing policies and hiring practices. Aside from governmental policies and childcare/daycare relief policies, workplace policies can help a great deal in helping women become successful at work, or attracting them to other careers.

  • Workplace policies: This pandemic has shown the world that it is possible to efficiently and productively do work from home (even more so when children return to school). Also, let’s face it: there’s no end to work. Employees check and reply to emails as early as 4am and as late as 11:59pm. As the work world returns to “normal,” some companies believe that it is best for everyone to get back to the office. However, consider rethinking flexible work schedules, which can benefit parents, along with employees who have multiple roles outside of work.
  • Hiring practices: Forty-one percent of working mothers are breadwinners and 71% of working mothers have children at home. However, we still hire as though a person has to live at work, and companies (sometimes unconsciously) penalize mothers due to childcare interference. While bias training is nice, ongoing reviews of hiring practices, salary offers, and candidate ratings would be even better for equity progression.
  • Fair treatment: While we don’t like to admit it, we still expect women to better qualified than men for the same jobs. This leads to women taking on more educational studies and additional “work” (sometimes tedious) in order to appear worthy of being hired for a role for less pay than her male counterpart. This has to stop and companies can stop this act today be reviewing and adjusting pay discrepancies. There have been recommendations of pay transparency, but that undertaking has been slow.

As we “return to normal,” we need to consider new ways to do work that will support women employees. Whether it is to support current women employees or hire more women, the way in which we practice work and construct new policies should change from traditional and punitive to equitable and rewarding.

Keep leading and stay safe,

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