Ask any mother what she considers her #1 priority and the answer will inevitably be “my family”. As it should be…but the question is, what is priority #2?
Recently I came across a book written by a college friend called Priorities. There are lots of good reminders as author Elizabeth Stuart-Grimes prompts readers to understand the difference between “wants and needs”. As I’ve read snippets from this book, I’ve been thinking about my own priorities—and the priorities of my coaching clients. Most of my clients are in their 40s and 50s, and because they’ve now experienced one of life’s “you never knows” (divorce, a husband’s job loss, etc.) of financial security has definitely become their Priority #2.
But it’s a little late in the game. There is the greatest wisdom in making financial security Priority #2 at college graduation and straight through the retirement years. My “Motherhood and Career Ambition” survey shows that too many women start taking responsibility for their own financial security too late in life.
When asked about their primary objective for attending college (and in many cases, graduate school), only 41% of women replied that their primary objective was to gain impressive educational credentials that would help them start and maintain a lifetime career. More alarming is the fact that only 32% of survey respondents (predominately ages 35 to 55) said they did so to ensure they would always have the means to support themselves financially. All of these answers are particularly interesting because 40% of respondents earned four-year college degrees and the majority, 60%, invested time and money into graduate degrees.
As further proof that women wait too long to make financial security Priority #2, 44% of respondents completely left the workforce to focus 100% on Priority #1 (family). This suggests that they were not focused on the fact that many life twists and turns could change their current financial security—and that a less demanding part-time, freelance or entrepreneurial role could lessen the impact of these life you never knows.
Another 33% of respondents said they left because it was not possible to get the flexibility they needed in their current jobs—or anywhere else. What I have found in 15+ years of coaching is that most women leave the workforce after a simple ask for flexibility (not a professional business proposal) and after minimal or no searching for an alternative work situation with other employers.
For 21% of my survey respondents, the financial security roll of the dice continued for a paid work hiatus of six to ten years and 17% stayed out of the workforce more than 10 years. Another 15% had a work hiatus of six to ten years, and 17% had a hiatus of three to five years. Generally speaking, employers consider you a current professional if you have been out of the workforce for less than two years. Every year out of the workforce makes it more difficult to return to the salaries and titles women left behind.
The majority of my survey respondents have not escaped an unexpected life event that caused financial instability:
- A spouse’s job loss (38%)
- Inconsistent income generated by their household’s major breadwinner (27%)
- Divorce (14%)
- Major illness in immediate family and unreimbursed medical expenses (9%)
- Unexpected financial support for 1 to 4 parents who outlive their savings (8%)
- Long-term financial support for children in low-paying or erratic jobs (5%)
- Disability of household’s breadwinner (4%)
- Premature death of spouse (2%)
Only 27% of survey respondents have yet to experience any financial challenge.
Though the majority of my survey respondents left the workforce for more than two years to care for family, it is perhaps not surprising that they are giving different advice to their daughters. Knowing what they know now about life’s twists and turns, 64% say they will encourage daughters to always find some kind of work that fits their lives—some way to generate even a small paycheck—so that they always have the current skills and experience to support themselves. A full 44% will go one step further and advise daughters to go for the career gusto—to strive for the top of their chosen career field. Only 6% will advise their daughters to do what they did: leave the workforce to care for young children.
For women at every age and stage—and for all the daughters who follow—playing a big role in your own financial security helps you meet all of life’s challenges and increase overall stability for the family that will always be Priority #1 .
Insights about how work and life choices have impacted long-term financial security are featured from women nationwide in my upcoming book, “Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead” (Nicholas Brealey, Hachette Book Group, October 2018).
Photo Credit: www.freedigitalphotos.net/Stuart Miles