Social Work Career Path


First, let’s define what exactly a pause means. In brief, I would argue that a pause is a temporary reframing of one’s priorities to place the personal before the professional. For some, like my friend Patricia Nakache, a pause isn’t a full stop from the paid workforce; it’s more of a downshifting that often includes part-time or flexible work. For others, like my other friend Tibi McCann, a pause can mean leaving the paid workforce fully and then returning after a brief period of time. For still others, pausing resembles the “opt-out” model in which they leave the workforce for years. A pause is not a dead end. Unlike the narrative that says you can’t get back into a paid job and re-ignite your career, my research shows women can and do.

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Consider Diane Flynn. She could be the face on the wanted sign of those who revile highly

qualified women with pristine educational pedigrees who “opt out” of their careers to focus on family. But for those who have elected to put their careers on the back burner and then, when the time is right, dream of re-igniting their professional ambitions, she is a role model.

Diane graduated from Stanford University with a degree in economics and joined the prestigious Boston Consulting Group. There she worked with, and was mentored by, Indra Nooyi, the current CEO of PepsiCo. After Diane graduated from Harvard Business School, she accepted a marketing job working in the burgeoning educational software industry at a company called Electronic Arts. She proved herself and was quickly promoted up the ladder. Diane stayed at the company for more than ten years, rising to become vice president of sales and business development. During her tour of duty at EA, she had two daughters. It wasn’t easy being a “working” mom, but she loved her job and, because she had a husband who shared in the home duties, Diane managed to make it all work. That is, until it didn’t anymore. Underlying health issues and infertility finally convinced her to take a break.

“I never imagined I would leave my career, but it seemed like the only solution,” Diane told me. “I agonized over the decision. I felt as if my identity was wiped out and I doubted I would ever have a successful career again. Of course, that was exactly what the media and the work world were telling me. But my body was telling me I needed to step back and regroup. In the end, there was no other option. I had to make a decision that was right for me.”

So Diane paused.

Her son was born a few years later. He had a cleft palate that required extensive surgeries, and this experience inspired her to volunteer time and talent to the hospital where he had received care. Soon the hospital found she was indispensable and hired Diane as a part-time marketing and strategy consultant. Her career, which had been on the back burner for nearly a decade, started to percolate. It didn’t take long for Diane to realize she was ready for full-time work, but she was unsure how to make it happen given the wide gap in her resume.

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