Careers Social Work

Requiring training and/or a return to school Requiring additional financial resources to implement (to attend school, to start a company, to become a social entrepreneur) Dealing with the potentially negative consequences to your family’s financial well-being given you have been out of the paid workforce and your new career may require an additional investment in training/education Many of the Warriors I interviewed told me they saw their new work as a way to make a difference but also as a way to model a new path for their children. As one Women on the Rise survey respondent shared about her post-pause career, “I joined the nonprofit world to ensure that I am working not only for myself but also for the greater good. It has helped open new doors and given me the opportunity to teach my daughter about the power of finding inner peace and satisfaction in your career choice.”

Despite the outdated notion that careers are linear, the paths of the Work PAUSE Thrive career innovators show there are a number of ways to (re)make your way, each with its own opportunities and challenges. Despite the overarching narrative that says pausing will kill your career, the trailblazing women who integrated a pause into their careers prove it doesn’t have to preclude one from achieving professional success. Whether they moved to new careers, became entrepreneurs, or started social movements, for all of the women who paused and then pivoted, it was the pause that empowered them.

As one Women on the Rise respondent shared, “My career break gave me the chance to step back and assess what really mattered to me. That became the fuel for all that I have done in my life both personally and professionally ever since. I wish every woman AND man had the chance to pause and find their purpose.”

In the next decade, as more data points become available and more research is done on the topic of women’s non-linear careers, I believe we are going to see a different “lean in” model for high-potential women. While many will follow the conventional career path of being all-in, all-of-the-time, a portion of them will do what Karen Catlin, Patricia Nakache, Jennifer Mazella, and so many of the other women I interviewed have done. They will work hard, rise up the ladder, pause or pull back to put their personal lives first, and then re-ignite their careers to great success. They are, and will continue to be, the very leaders Sheryl Sandberg and so many of us want to see at the tops of their fields. The only difference is they will have done it their way.

Forget what you’ve heard about how pauses are career limiting, about how those who pause lack ambition, about how what you do while you pause is irrelevant, that if you do pause you won’t be able to re-enter the workforce. That’s a flawed reality, part of a self-negating narrative that reflects a larger culture truth: We have a bias against caregiving in this country.

High-potential women (and men) who want lives that are more than just work, work, work, need to fully understand the ecosystem in which they are operating. They need to recognize their individual situations exist in a cultural, social, economic, and political environment that remains rooted in an outmoded reality.

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Wendy Wallbridge, career coach to many high-powered women in Silicon Valley and author of the book Spiraling Upward: The 5 Co-Creative Powers for Women on the Rise, argues that life happens in, well, spirals.46 We as individuals and as a culture cycle back to unresolved issues until we can move beyond them and up to the next turn of our evolution.

I thought of her message when I was flipping through a recent copy of InStyle magazine. Page after page showed models in the latest fashions for work. What were they wearing? Suits with padded shoulders and blouses with floppy bow ties. I couldn’t help but laugh. It was the same attire I and my female colleagues donned back in the day. As I write this, Donald Trump is the Republican candidate for the presidency and the tech industry has become the new Wall Street where greed is (still) good. Blink your eyes and we’re back in the ‘80s again.

A new generation of women is ready to take its place on the path to leadership and yet little has changed in the workplace for women in general and mothers in particular. As this next cohort of well-educated, high-potential women become parents, will they too feel forced to choose between work and family? Most likely. As I have shared before, I wish the workplace was structured so women (and men) are not forced to choose between their personal and professional goals. But it is. As Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote in Unfinished Business, “If we want to move forward for women and men, for our workplaces, and for our society as a whole … We have to ask ourselves why we are so certain of our oft-buried assumptions about the way things are.”47

Part II of this book challenges how things are and addresses the unfinished business of how our country deals with mothers in the workforce. It looks at why pausing was a necessary reality for many women in my generation and why it is likely to continue to be so today. It gives you insights into the cultural, social, and economic environment in which we are operating, and it gives much-needed information to be empowered to make fully informed decisions about your life and your career. It provides the context I wish I had when I was embarking on parenthood and helps explain why it is so damn hard to integrate parenthood and careers.

Forget what you’ve heard about how pauses are career limiting, about how those who pause lack ambition, about how what you do while you pause is irrelevant, that if you do pause you won’t be able to re-enter the workforce. That’s a flawed reality, part of a self-negating narrative that reflects a larger culture truth: We have a bias against caregiving in this country.

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