When her children got older and she was ready to return to full-time work, Kella again reached out to her network. One of her past coworkers was an advisor to the North Carolina Department of Health and recommended she apply for an opening they had. Today, Kella is the executive director of the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force.
“In many ways, this job brings together so many of my previous roles. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t had those earlier experiences and the contacts I made that allowed me to keep moving my career forward. Like always, my father was right.”
He was right. To pause, you need to build a foundation. None of the career planning seminars I attended as a young woman nor any that I’ve heard of today ever mentioned this as a career strategy. Perhaps it’s because, as my generation of women entered the workforce, we didn’t have enough data to know about how to integrate a pause into one’s career. Or, perhaps it’s because we hesitate to seemingly encourage women to pause their careers for their families at a time when we need to keep the pipeline filled to the top with highly qualified women.
Refusing to address the reality that women can and do pause means the millions of women who leave the workforce each year to become primary caregivers to their children or who pull back to work part-time are getting insufficient career planning advice. Not discussing the importance of building one’s professional foundation does a disservice to all women, whether they think they want to pause or not.
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Much has been written about how Millennials are taking longer to settle into their chosen careers. Some of this has to do with the fact that they have come into the workforce as it is trying to recover from the Great Recession and jobs have not been as readily available. When they actually do get jobs, Millennials have proven they are more committed to trying on different careers before settling into one defined path. In fact, a 2015 report by Ernst & Young noted that over two-thirds of Millennials expect to leave their current job in the next three to four years.237
This job hopping can offer a multitude of benefits, including building a wide set of skills and contacts. But job hopping does not necessarily help you establish your career. By not settling into a career path before you launch into parenthood, you may well be risking your ability to pause, even if it is one from which you pivot after you pause.
Because your reputation, your skills and abilities, and your credibility as someone who can deliver the needed results in a given workplace is the foundation that supports your career as you move ahead, no matter if you are working or pausing. It takes a number of years and some measure of stability to build this foundation. So job hop at first, but settle in for a few years before you have children. It may just be the ticket to the professional freedom you want and need.
Finally, as you build your foundation, remember to also build your ability to integrate work and life before you have children. If you are always all-in and then suddenly have a baby, you won’t have the necessary skills to set boundaries, manage your time, and prioritize the myriad of demands on your schedule. Debbie Lovich, partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group, tells women, “If you wait until you have kids, you won’t know any other way to work but to work all of the time. That’s not a recipe for success.”
Learn to work smart, not hard. This ability will help you whatever your life priorities may be.
Refusing to address the reality that women can and do pause means the millions of women who leave the workforce each year to become primary caregivers to their children or who pull back to work part-time are getting insufficient career planning advice.