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Women at Work: Thinking Differently

In my last post I dove into the somber inconvenient truth about women in corporate America. It’s not looking good for us. Women are disappearing the closer we get to the top, so much so that women are barely present on either of the top 500 company lists. And women of color - particularly black women - are nearly completely eliminated.

I based much of my last post on a 2017 study by Lean In and McKinsey & Company which said, among many other things, that women don’t have a lack of desire, just a lack of opportunity. Just as many women as men get business degrees (actually, more women), enter the business world, and desire to become top executives. Yet, they’re being shut out.

But as I mentioned, I am not sure it’s as simple as that. I suspect there is a level of burnout among women that exceeds that of men, and leads women to remove themselves from the race.

Exhibit A - McKinsey did another study in 2012 which found that women account for just over half of corporate entry-level jobs. By the time they make it to middle management, the number is now just under 40%. For senior manager to VP, now we’re looking at just a quarter. But only 11% of women are choosing the leaving the workplace permanently to have children. Representation drops from 53% at the entry level to just 26% at the SM/VP level - if 11% of those women left to have children (according to Harvard Business Review), what happened to the other 16%?

I believe those 16% of ladies burned out and said good-bye. Expectations in the corporate world are high enough, imagine how much higher the pressure is for women who we’ve already seen don’t have the necessary amount of mentorship or support. When you’re trying to navigate the maze on your own, it’s not necessarily a surprise to think some women say to themselves, “you know what? I don’t think this is worth it anymore.”

Speaking of pressure, there is still the unfortunate and outdated notion that men should be breadwinners. A feature written earlier this year for Refinery29 highlighted the major levels of conflict women experience when they have a higher income than their significant other.

As we attempt to navigate these unfortunate circumstances, I find myself being more encouraged by how many women are throwing the towel in and realizing they can chart their own paths. Women are no longer relying on the corporate construct as a means of getting ahead.

And when they do go into business for themselves, they’re not chained to a desk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Increasingly, young entrepreneurs are working from anywhere they can get a WiFi connection, experiencing an enviable level of freedom from business as usual.

Another growing trend is the idea of a grown up gap year. We’re used to hearing about students taking gap years between high school and college, but now more adults are taking gap years - almost mini retirements - between stages of their career. This isn’t the typical sabbatical dedicated to writing a book or joining the Peace Corps (both of which are amazing goals by the way) - the grown up gap year is more about rest, travel, rejuvenation, and self-discovery.

I consider myself a business-minded, entrepreneurial woman, but if you asked me if I’d ever want to be a CEO of a top multinational company I’d say hell no absolutely not. As the dynamics of corporate America continue to languish in The-Office-style prehistory, I hope to join the class of women looking ahead to a new paradigm.

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