Recently in collaboration with Ivy Exec (a great professional resource you should all know about), I held a webinar for women who are thinking of taking a work hiatus. It was Part II in a series that advises women to “Look Before You Leap” out of the workforce. My mission is to help as many women as possible find a way to make work work before putting a hold on their careers.
You can view the full webinar at this link—which will explain why you have to do much more than ask your boss for flexibility in one casual conversation. My presentation outlines the research you need to do and the points you need to make for a well-crafted presentation that outlines your business case for flexibility. You’ll also hear the ins and outs and pros and cons of various flexibility options at your current company and beyond.
During the webinar attendees participated in two polls, and the results mirror what I’ve heard from hundreds of working women with one foot on the off-ramp.
When I asked attendees to name the type of flexibility they find most desirable, most said that they would like to keep their current full-time jobs and work at home one day or more. In the range of flexibility options, this is the most easily attainable. I advise women to keep a log of all work activities for one month—noting which are done solo and which required face time with colleagues. In my experience most women find that at least 20% of their work is solo—which is a good argument to work at least 20% of the week (or one day) at home.
The other type of flexibility that ranked high among webinar attendees is in the form of entrepreneurial ventures. This did not surprise me at all because women often believe that they will never find true flexibility unless they call the shots as the boss. There is some truth to this theory, but I always tell women to think carefully about whether they are truly “Type E”. Type E is my moniker for natural entrepreneurs—and I believe that only a small percentage of humans fall into this category. Not everyone can fit even a Type A personality into a Type E job—when you’re required to wear every conceivable hat, you can’t delegate less high-level tasks to other people and you carry the weight of a business start-up 24/7. Add in the need to be a skilled salesperson (to sell ANY product or service), the need to invest in the company to make it grow—and the fact that cash flow can be spotty or non-existent–and you have a new work structure that could bring on less flexibility and more stress.
(As an aside, I’m a serial entrepreneur and I wouldn’t have it any other way—but I’ve had both positive and negative experiences, some that would expire the most faint-hearted entrepreneurs.)
Staying on the issue of money, when I asked webinar attendees for their biggest fear about leaving the workforce, loss of paycheck topped the list. Lots of women leave the workforce without any intention of starting a business or generating an income of any kind. My webinar attendees are right to worry about financial issues: the loss of one paycheck can require a major family budget overhaul. And that is just a shorter-term issue: women leaving the workforce need to think about how the exit will impact their long-term financial security (retirement savings, college educations) and salary expectations if and when they choose to return.
The issue of reentry was of equal concern to my webinar attendees—and rightfully so. There’s no question that it can be hard to jump over a resume gap—and women often return to jobs that are lower in title and salary. But that can be OK, because when women return to the workforce with a healthy ego, they know that they can ramp back up pretty quickly.
Though I am biased in my efforts to help women stay in the workforce (since I’ve counseled so many frustrated and disenchanted volunteers), I believe strongly that it is a personal decision based on so many factors visible only to you and your own family. For women determined to leave the workforce, I just advise them to do so with open eyes and a realistic understanding of what they will see on the other side. Though “disruption to career path” was also a concern for my webinar attendees, an exit is not an end to a career path. A future reentry can be facilitated by targeted volunteer work, freelance projects and even consulting assignments with the employer you leave.
It all comes back my webinar title, “Look Before You Leap”. When you take a very careful look at all the issues surrounding a work hiatus, you can put emotions aside and find your own peace in informed, intelligent decisions. —KAS
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