Ming knew few words of English when she landed in New York from Hong Kong at 15. Yet, through what she describes as the “pure survival drive of an immigrant,” she found a way to finance two Ivy League degrees and launch herself into a high-level management career. Eventually, with two young sons, Ming chose to step down from her professional role, but not away from leading. She stayed active and engaged in her community and schools in a variety of strategic leadership roles. Still, when it came time to return to paid work, Ming felt paralyzed by irrational thoughts that she was outdated, “just” a mom, and had a “canyon-sized” employment gap.
Amy was a lawyer with a specialty in international law and found her work deeply gratifying. Although raised to believe she could be anything she wanted to be, she didn’t have a professional female role model. Generations of women in her family had stayed home to raise their children, and she did the same. Even as she volunteered her time to tackle literacy and equity in education, Amy found she was so caught up in supporting her four children that her own identity and self-confidence was waning.
Andrea had had a successful 20-year career in public relations for a major university when she realized it was time for a change. Reflecting on the rewarding volunteer work of serving as a “cuddler” at a children’s hospital and on the executive committee of a charity horse show, and not yet ready to retire, Andrea decided to pivot towards public service.
Jennifer got her first payroll job when she was 15 and has worked for pay pretty much ever since. After having her first child, she returned to work after just four months. Two weeks into her return, and suffering from exhaustion, she decided to quit. Her boss, a mother of four who had “paused” paid work for 25 years, encouraged her to stay, offering her more time off or a temporary reduction in hours. In the end, Jennifer chose to do neither, but her boss’s compassion and long view gave her what she needed stay with the job she loved.
These varied stories show the creativity and resourcefulness of women as they approach their careers. Too often the topic of work is framed as black and white. To work or not to work. There is no right or wrong, but we need to know it isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition.
Corps Team founder and CEO Allison O’Kelly often shares the story of how her desire for a better work-life blend led her to explore options beyond a traditional career. She began a contract accounting business, and quickly realized she was not alone. Other women were also looking to achieve work-life satisfaction by maintaining a career while still being there to care for and raise their children.
9 Lives for Women addresses women’s desire to “keep a toe in the water,” both for work satisfaction and to stay current. Kathryn Sollman, 9 Lives’ founder, also points out that continuing to work can help buffer a woman from those “you never know” moments, and contribute to a family’s long-term savings. In this post, Sollman shares examples of how even a small income of $13,000 per year can equate to over $400,000 in additional retirement savings.
What are your options beyond a traditional job, commuting to an office five days per week? To start, collaborative technologies make work-from-home options common. Flexible work includes choices about time, place and duration. Consider part-time, temporary, or contract work, or look in to compressed work weeks, job share options, and flexible start and stop times. Maybe now is the time to consider entrepreneurship. Flexible work is work that fits your life. Be creative and ask for what you need.
For those who have chosen to take a leave, know that more and more, companies see the value in hiring talented moms. Once you’ve decided to re-enter the workplace, make a list of your experiences (volunteering is unpaid work, but work all the same), a list of skills you have (you may just surprise yourself), and a list of professional connections. If you need to rejuvenate your industry-relevant skills, or learn about the latest trends, there are corporate programs, coaching, and training options available. Ming, Amy, and Andrea all chose to “ReBoot” their careers by attending GSVlabs’ ReBoot Career Accelerator for Women, where they not only received training, but also camaraderie and inspiration.
Most importantly, arm yourself with knowledge. Talk to others who have gone through these experiences before you, seek professional advice, and do your research. In the end, these steps will help you to do what is best for you and your family.
This post was a collaboration between ReBoot Career Accelerator for Women and Corps Team. You can find more information about ReBoot here.
On May 12th, 9 Lives for Women is hosting an event, “Making Work Fit Life” – Details can be found here.
For information about a ReBoot one-day workshop in New York City on April 8th, click here.