It’s a myth that time away from the workforce will undermine your career. This myth is based on outdated ideas of the workplace. And it’s an important myth to bust, because in today’s post-feminist workplace, the majority of women say that given a choice, they would not choose full-time work when their kids are young.
Here are some reasons why it’s safe to interrupt your career to have children. And, in fact, most of this data is relevant to interrupting a career for any reason — not just kids.
1. Demographic trends make women ages 30-50 valuable at work.
We all know that as baby-boomers retire, Generation X is not big enough to replace them, and Generation Y does not have the experience to replace them. But demographic trends have created a much bigger labor shortage than anyone anticipated.
There is a labor shortage in Generation X that no one predicted, and it’s because of increased fertility, according to James Vere, author of the paper, “Having It All No Longer: Fertility, Female Labor Supply, and the New Life Choices of Generation X.” He says, “The women of Generation X are not only having more children than the baby boom generation, but also supply fewer hours to the labor market,” and this makes women who do go back to work more valuable than people could have anticipated.
The other contributing factor to the Gen X labor shortage is that Gen X men do not work the long hours that baby-boomer men worked. Instead, those aged 18 to 37 are more likely to view family as an equal or higher priority than work, according to the Families and Work Institute. And the majority of those men are willing to sacrifice pay to spend more time with their kids, according to the Radcliffe Public Policy Center.
So it is no surprise that McKinsey Consulting reports that, “Finding talented people is likely to be the single most important managerial preoccupation for the rest of this decade.” (via 2020resumes)
2. Women adapt to job changes better than men do.
Companies might be better off hiring a woman who has taken time off from the workplace than a man who is switching companies.
Why? Because high-performing women do better at leaving a company and finding a new one than high-performing men do–in general, women keep up their high performance and men don’t. This study is based on the finance industry but the findings (published in this month’s Harvard Business Review) apply to most knowledge workers.
And even though women typically have a more difficult time than men navigating in-house politics and finding mentors, these women respond by being better at cultivating relationships outside of the company. Which means that they are in a better position than men to make a switch to another company.
According to the study, women start a new job stronger because they are more strategic when planning their careers (due to lacking the boys-club connection). “Women took greater care and analyzed a wider range of factors than men before deciding to uproot themselves.”
So ironically, all the worrying that women do about how to reenter the workforce after having kids probably pays off.
3. Social networking makes on-ramping much easier.
Ten years ago, the work it took to maintain a network during extended maternity leave was prohibitive. Dealing with a three-month-old during the day, and showing up to conferences and events at night, for instance, is a route for only the most intrepid of new moms. But social networking tools have brought the moms out of hiding.
Generally, the people using social networking tools are outgoing, value-oriented, high performers who were well connected to begin with. The tools are easy to use from home and the strengths of the mommy-blogging network are testament to the popularity of social networking tools among women taking time off from the workforce.
In case you’re wondering about the power of blogging in one’s career, take a look at Carol Wapshere. She took time off to care for family members and then relocated to Switzerland for her husband’s career. She started a blog in order to raise her profile in her industry before going back, and it worked and landed her a consulting job , and then a speaking gig at Microsoft’s TechDays conference.
This is not an isolated case. I get emails from women like Carol all the time.
4. The new idea of career means retrieving yours is not all that hard.
Most of the literature written about the duress of the on-ramp is by baby boomers who can’t stop obsessing about the glass ceiling. Most of the women taking time off to have kids today have no ambitions of breaking that glass ceiling because what’s above it is so absurd. That makes taking time off to have kids not as big a risk to them.
Look, if you want to shoot straight up the corporate ladder to the CEO position, don’t have kids. Corporate life is not changing as fast as corporate press releases would like you to believe. CEOs do not take care of their kids. Someone else does. And the difference between a father’s ability to get to the top versus a mother’s is night and day. Men are more likely than women to cope with extreme delegating of parenting. This is not a judgment; it’s a fact that is sitting right in front of us.
But most potential parents today are much less consumed with money and prestige, and more concerned with personal growth and flexibility. So taking a position below the last one is not as upsetting as it used to be. People do not think of a career as a straight shoot up the corporate ladder. It’s a winding path, and there’s lots of room for children.