Recently I met with a coaching client who is a young, successful professional at a big New York City bank. She has an MBA from a top school, she has progressed rapidly to a senior level, she has been targeted for big promotions and she’s generally living the dream of what many would call an “ambitious woman”. But what I didn’t mention yet is that she’s the mother of two young children and she has other definitions of ambition in mind.
This young woman actually does not want another promotion at the big New York City bank. In fact, she’s thinking of leaving so she can eliminate a long commute and lots of travel—and see her sons for more than a few minutes each day as they get into or out of bed.
Unlike many women, though, who believe there’s only one very traditional way to work—in more than full-time roles that are always hard-driving toward the top—she does not want to leave the workforce entirely. She loves to work, she wants to continue to contribute significantly to her household income and—despite the fact that she wants to pull back—she still considers herself an ambitious woman. Though she seems determined to find the work that fits her own life (not the life of the power sisterhood who say the only way forward is up), she also expressed sheepish concern that her banking colleagues will consider her a “lightweight” if she pursues a different career coaching dream.
In so many pockets of the business world there’s a lingering perception that anything other than the traditional climb up the corporate ladder is less serious, less ambitious and less challenging. Many think flexwork is more junior work with more junior compensation. Women who are Type AAA at their core worry that flexible jobs lack the high voltage on which they thrive. But flexwork is not the domain of the lackluster and underpaid.
Here are four key reasons why:
- Flexibility is showing up in the most unlikely places. Working Mother magazine publishes an annual list of the “50 Best Law Firms for Women,” including many of the big, top-ranked law firms women chose to exit in decades past. Now these firms tout reduced hours, remote work and increased parental leave benefits. Most ensure that lawyers who take advantage of family-friendly programs are not cut off from partnership or leadership positions. I’ve seen this sea change firsthand: an uber smart attorney I know works remotely in Vermont, travels to her New York office occasionally, and still snagged the partner title at a prestigious firm.
- The demand for flexible workers is high. Evidence that employers are migrating toward a flexible, on-demand labor model appears in the 2017 Workforce Productivity Report. Nearly all (96%) of the chief financial officers and line-of-business managers surveyed say they engage independent contractors. Most of these business leaders believe contract workers are more or equally productive as full-time employees. Independent contractors account for 21 to 60% of the workforce at half the companies surveyed. The skills always in hot demand for more seasoned consultants include marketing/communications, project management, business analysis, accounting/finance, and the full gamut of information technology expertise. Working independently is an increasingly viable and respected career option as employers see they can choose the best talent from a wider geographic pool and save about 30% in payroll costs. The freelancing platform Upwork features job listings from 20% of Fortune 500 companies.
- The pay is not small potatoes. LinkedIn found that average freelancing rates are in the $50 to $150-per-hour range. At the high end of that average range a woman could have annual compensation of $150,000 for 20 billable hours of work per week. One young woman I know earned more than $90,000 in a yearlong freelance entry-level advertising job—and it was her very first job out of college. The most compelling data point is that most freelancers who leave a traditional full-time job earn more money within one year.
- At-home work is not a cop-out for less motivated workers. The popular online job board, FlexJobs, regularly lists remote jobs for high-achievers—chief financial officers, chief operating officers, chief people officers, chief development officers, vice presidents in many disciplines, nonprofit executive directors, and interim CEOs.
Today corporations are forced to rethink traditional work schedules (due to widespread flexwork demands and low unemployment rates calling for more competitive perks). And there are also legions of impressive independent workers who are expected to dominate the workforce in coming years. There’s no question that it’s out there: professional, lucrative, challenging work with the room to nurture family, financial security and a resume that passes muster with your own and other critical eyes.