Guest post by Laura Yecies (learn more about Laura at the end of this post)
I recently stumbled upon a women and workplace survey from MORE magazine which raises the question of the ambition of women, and lays out data from the survey related to what we really want from our careers. A few stats especially caught my eye, including “When asked point-blank, 43 percent of women described themselves as less ambitious now than they were 10 years ago; only 15 percent reported feeling more ambitious.”
I discussed this with a fellow (woman) colleague and we both reached the conclusion that from our experience woman are not less ambitious, just giving voice to our conflicted emotions while we seek the ideal work-life balance for our stage in life.
Below are some of the stats from the survey with my interpretation of the reason for the stat breakdown, plus a little advice to my brethren on how to stick with the program.
Stat: 43% of the women surveyed say they are less ambitious now than they were a decade ago.
Really? While I think it’s true that in our search for life balance over recent years many women have sacrificed their careers, I don’t view that so much as lack of ambition. Several of my colleagues have simply stepped off the corporate ladder for different ambitions, such as raising a family or pursuing other personal goals. Yet while many of these women have enjoyed productive years away from work, some are regretful—not for how they spent their time, but because of the challenge they now face re-entering the workplace. Recommendation: Stay on (or near) the Ladder.
When we are in the midst of a particularly challenging time in juggling the work/life balance – it is particularly tempting to throw in the towel. Making it all work can seem insurmountable, but these particularly difficult periods don’t last forever. If you think about the typical professional work career as 40 years long – the number of years when the average mom has infant and preschool aged children may be 5-10 years. While there can be a lot of variation in this number, bottom line is that it is typically a minority of our potential working lives. Taking the longer view of one’s career and either staying on the ladder and managing the lack of sleep and personal time is one option. Another is perhaps cutting back, but staying “near” the ladder with either a less stressful or even part-time job can make sense for many women. When their career ambitions spike again, they’ll be in a much better position to smoothly strike a new work-life balance.
Stat: Only a quarter of the 500 women ages 35-60 say they’re working toward their next promotion.
Not fighting to get ahead right now? That’s okay. Not all people are wired to continuously climb the corporate ladder. The way I see it, it really depends on where you’re at in life. Sometimes you’re a more ambitious mode than at other times, sometimes you’re very ambitious and sometimes you may thoroughly enjoy where you’re at in terms of job fulfillment, level of responsibility, co-workers, and overall balance. The fact that you’re not seeking a promotion at this moment doesn’t mean you’re not striving for a successful, fulfilling career. Recommendation: Go With the Flow
The key is to choose the right job, career and overall situation that are right for you at your particular stage in life. A new mom who wants to continue working may find that a contributor role in a large corporation is a better fit than a management position in a startup company. Life changes, so it’s important to go with the flow. Your situation today will be different from that of 10 years from now. Rather than “throw in the towel” and stop working, I encourage women to manage work-life balance as best as possible under the circumstances. When that next stage of life arrives—for example, the kids leave the nest, or perhaps elderly parents move in—you’ll be in position to make the suitable career move.
Stat: 73% of the women surveyed—nearly 3 out of every 4—say they would not apply for their boss’ job.
Throughout my corporate climb, I can honestly say I wasn’t intentionally aiming for my boss’ job even though that’s where I sometimes landed, and where I was happy to be. I wasn’t overly planning for the long term or pinpointing a particular role in the unforeseen future. Instead, I focused on what was best for me, my company, and my family at that very moment. That holds true today. If you’re sacrificing time with family to climb the corporate ladder, it should be fulfilling and rewarding work. Conversely, if you choose to take a less demanding role at work, you can apply the same ambition and “alpha” attitude required as a corporate leader to your role as mom at home—while being more of a “beta” at work. And there’s no telling what the future may bring – be it in work or home, so why not live – and work – in the moment? Recommendation: Don’t Over Plan for Things That Might Not Happen.
When it comes to career aspirations and work-life balance, it’s important not to psych yourself out. Don’t not do something today because of what might or might not happen in the future. Life is full of exciting new challenges and opportunities and, while you can have the best laid plans, you can’t account for every change along the way. Be wary not to over plan for things that may or may not happen. Make the career choice during that time that best enables the work-life balance you desire at the point in life you’re at.
In closing, all of us women wrestle at some point in our lives with professional and personal changes and decisions around work-life balance. That’s human nature—not less ambition. Let’s support and encourage each other in finding what’s best throughout the course of our careers and lives.
About the Author:
Laura Yecies is a mom of four and CEO of SugarSync, a San Francisco-based startup that helps moms keep their life in sync by tapping the power of the Cloud for sharing and storing all of life’s most precious data – both personal and business. For more wisdom and insight on how to manage the juggling act and enjoy life each day, check out her blog: http://thekitchensync.co