Women Building More Flexibility In Their Careers

Yesterday, I had the great opportunity to participate in the SHRM #NextChat focused on women in business. After answering the questions, I realized that there’s a theme to my answers — flexibility is key.

Women are often taught that they can have it all, and that’s a dream men haven’t realized in years. If you look at the armed forces, before women started to serve, those men spent months and years away from their families. Today’s road warrior might be on the front lines, but he could also wear a three-piece for his flight suit and pack M&A due diligence reports for his flight plans.

Place a woman in that road warrior’s shoes, and suddenly there are more considerations on the table — how does she balance work and home life? Can she still raise a family?

As women push to equalize the higher ranks, there’s even more demand for flexibility. I’m not talking about flexibility from the company perspective, like giving employees unlimited PTO or the ability to work from home. While those are incredibly important benefits in today’s workforce, true flexibility is anchored in the career decisions women make. Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, got lots of people talking about flexibility, and so I have to add my two cents.

If you’re not willing to make big changes for your career, you’re not truly flexible.

Career-focused decisions can go both ways — making a change to support your career, or not changing in order to focus on your family. Having true flexibility means that you understand the sacrifices at every decision point, and you are contented with those decisions.

Trish McFarlane shared:

"Personally, I think women trying to fit some mold defined by someone else is the challenge. Make your own way, your own rules."

This infographic finds some of the interesting statistics out there about women in the workforce — only 60 percent of women who went to the elite schools are now working fulltime, or that just 32 percent of mothers with non-adult children want to work full-time. These numbers tell me that a career path for women to the executive ranks isn’t an simple mathematical equation — attend good college, work your way up, get a corner office. Things get in the way, and at some point, women might not even want the corner office anymore.

When looking at flexibility, you have to understand that you’re making a choice. That’s the power of choice, but a choice always means giving something up.

So at the end of the day, flexibility isn’t just getting the outside world to work with you, it’s you working with the outside world.

As OneWire noted:

"Career satisfaction comes in all shapes and forms, especially with men vs women."

Check out the rest of the #NextChat here.

If you weren’t able to join us, share your opinions — this discussion will be going on for a while.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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