The 2016 elections are expected to draw record numbers of women to the polls. Women will be exercising their right to vote at a time when they are also speaking up about many important issues that focus on fairness and equality.
Though women will not actually vote to redefine ambition, it’s an important issue that impacts millions of women and their families. Now is a good time to reflect on the fact that paid work helps all women achieve financial security for themselves and their families. The problem, though, is that current proclamations for women to “lean in” to professional power are backfiring. With an additional two big jobs (caregiving for children and aging parents), many women tell me they feel out of step with their company’s leadership training “to the top”. Women at home contemplating a return after a long work hiatus worry that they face a hard-driving workforce that primarily values women aiming for C-Suite roles.
Both of these situations create a lot of frustration and call for a happy medium—a place where women can “lean in-between” and pursue challenging, lucrative, flexible professional work that makes it possible to cultivate both career and family.
Ambition can indeed take many forms—it’s not only reserved for women who want to be CEO. A woman who hustles to get a steady stream of freelance writing jobs is ambitious—as well as the marketing consultant who is in hot demand to help consumer product goods companies develop their brands. An ambitious woman could be a small business owner who has a profitable company that sells a product or service but never will be mentioned on the cover of The Wall Street Journal. An office manager helping a company streamline operating costs, a project manager who leads IT initiatives and a professional who has more flexibility meeting individual sales targets than leading a sales team all fall into the ambitious category, too. Even the woman who has a small part-time job close to home—one that she manages to fit in with a long list of family responsibilities—gets lots of points for having the ambition to always find ways to make work fit life.
In my book, Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead, I make my own “campaign pitch”:
An ambitious woman is any woman who finds a flexible way to blend work and family, always building her own and her family’s long-term financial security—and insuring against life “you never knows”.
Work equality needs to happen not only between men and women but also within our own demographic. Let’s support each other by allowing many definitions of ambition and success—and encouraging all women to always work in a flexible way that fits and funds life. Women typically live longer than men—and earn and save less—making career breaks of any length very expensive time away.
Today it’s possible to find work during school hours or even a full-time job that gets you home before your children are in bed. There are ways to cut down on or eliminate long daily commutes, work closer to aging parents, condense your workweeks, share jobs and capitalize on expertise for a client list and workload you calibrate on your own. Up is not the only way forward for women—continual participation in the workforce is as important for the economy and our own pocketbooks as the attainment of power.
In the introduction to my book, I say:
Work flexibility is in fact leading to a new feminism: a different work equality for women that encourages many respected paths to professional stature. Women who want to populate the highest echelons of business and government should absolutely have a path to do so, but that is not a path that all women should feel pressured to follow. Ambitious women now have many professional options and many ways to develop their own brand of success. The best career advice is not “get to the top,” it’s “stay at it.” Always find work that fits your life. Plan for life’s surprises. Make sure you earn, save and invest toward a long and comfortable retirement. Explore the ever-widening world of flexwork—and you’ll find many interesting and exciting ways to tuck all generations of your family into a future that is financially secure and safe.
This election season vote for a new definition of career ambition—one that is more inclusive of all women and individual paths to personal satisfaction, ample earnings and success.
Don’t forget to vote on November 6th! Learn more about developing your own brand of ambition and success in my newly released book, Ambition Redefined.