Over the years, I’ve met very few women who’ve told me they want to be a CEO. Though that may be the dream for some, the majority of women I’ve encountered want challenging, interesting work, but shooting for the C-Suite just isn’t their cup of tea. Few women have linear careers; most stop and start and move sideways, forward, and back. The work that fits their lives now is not always the work they did when they were younger, and it may also deviate completely from degrees they’ve earned.
Today many women do not have family bandwidth to sustain 60-70-hour workweeks plus long commutes and lots of travel. They don’t want to lean in to every opportunity to rise through the ranks, but they still want a sustainable, fulfilling career that fits their lives. The good news is that this is a dream that can easily become a reality.
Work that Enhances, Not Overwhelms Life
I’ve met thousands of women who want to capitalize on their degrees, do interesting work, make significant money, and advance their careers. And whether you need a career shift to make room for caregiving, are returning to work, or any place in-between, you aren’t alone in this yearning. “Real work” doesn’t have one specific look or standard, and success is also not measured with one C-Suite yardstick. Smaller, but still significant, paychecks still add up over time. When we give women the leeway to create their own definition of success and ambition, we empower them to stay in the workforce on their own terms.
Any path to financial security can be a good, worthy, and fulfilling journey. But the frequent lament is that work leaves no room for life, or that life leaves no room for work. Women often say they need more work-life balance, but it is more realistic to shoot for a work-life blend. No aspect of life is ever perfectly balanced, but we can make work choices that reduce stress and increase satisfaction and financial security.
How to Make it Happen
Even if you’ve left behind careers or need to adjust your current professional trajectory, you can make find purpose and financial security through six different kinds of flexible work. Especially for young women just starting out, it’s wise to think ahead and always consider the kind of work that can be the most flexible in the future. Life has a way of becoming more and more complex, and flexible work gives us all many opportunities to blend work and family caregiving. Whenever you encounter bumps in the road, flexible work allows you to stay on track and keep building long-term financial security.
Your first option (for women currently working) is to ask your boss for more flexibility. (Take a look at my 7 tips to “Get Your Boss to Say Yes to Flex!”.) Women often don’t realize that a full-time job can be flexible in terms of schedule or location. Just avoid the simple ask like “Can I work from home on Fridays?” You need to make a professional pitch for flexibility—carefully outlining the kind of flexibility you would like, where the work will get done and how the work will get done. You need to think through how you’ll manage people and projects remotely, communication and project management tools you will use and how you’ll attend meetings when you’re not at your employer’s desk. It’s important, too, to emphasize how a flexible arrangement could benefit your employer…like an increased ability to service clients in other time zones with a simple schedule shift.
Flexibility exists in some form at 80% of companies, but you may be one of the unlucky few with an employer that will not budge. If you run into a brick wall, there’s a much more flexible world out there and it’s very likely you can find a more enlightened employer. Know that flexibility increases as company size decreases. And be sure to explore the five other kinds of professional flexwork hat can be found at companies of every shape and size: part-time roles, job shares, full or partial telecommuting roles (remote work), occasional freelance work or more long-term consulting assignments.
For more information on how to find the work that fits your life, read my book, Ambition Redefined.