I Can See Clearly Now: Why Flexible Paths Work for Women in The Workplace

women in the workplace

women in the workplace

Goals can backfire on you if you set them too high early on in your career. Disappointment in not reaching them as planned can cause inertia. A better approach may be to adjust your time frame and expectations as needed.As a highly ambitious journalist fresh out of graduate school at 21, I set the goal for myself of having my first book published by the time I was 25. And I wrote one, too. But I never succeeded in getting that book published, even though I had an agent who was trying.I did have the career in journalism I wanted, plus later a career in academia, but my first book did not come out until I was 41 years old. That was 16 years after I told myself I would have that career goal accomplished. Since then I have written five books.But not achieving the milestone for myself on the timeline I created was devastating. As the saying goes, I wish I knew then what I know now. Getting tied up — and dejected— by the goals you set for yourself  years down the line as a woman in the workplace may not be the best practice. So many factors come into play and life shifts. Being more flexible about setting and reaching goals is a better practice.Jenny Foss agrees and writes in The Muse that you don’t have to have your work trajectory defined precisely by the time you are 30.“Folks, when you’re 29, 30, or even 42, you don’t have to have the entire storyline of your career mapped out. In fact, you could miss out on an incredible opportunity if you don’t allow yourself to be open to possibilities that come your way, curious about alternative paths, or flexible in how you define ‘career success,’” Foss writes.That is not to say you do not work hard. That is to say life — and career— rarely work out perfectly as planned. Mastery and excellence take time.In a provocative essay in Medium, Jon Westenberg writes about the necessity of persistence, time and patience when expecting to master a profession. “You can’t become a successful writer, artist, entrepreneur, designer, potter, architect, software developer or puppeteer overnight. There is no such thing as a surprise, smash hit. Nothing is immediate.”Embracing that notion as well as the idea that nothing is permanent in your professional life, may help you also adjust.Journalist and author Farai Chideya writes about such ephemeral changes in her new book, The Episodic Career: How to Thrive at Work in the Age of Disruption. In an interview with Richard Eisenberg of Next Avenue, she discusses what that means.“Everyone has the ability to use the skills you have within you. Who’s to say you only have to use one skillset in your career?” Chideya asks.“For Millennials, this is the status quo. They don’t plan on having a 45-year, gold watch career. They’re comfortable with the episodic model because they don’t know anything different. People my age — I’m 46, Gen X — thought they started out with a linear career and then had to change. Boomers are sometimes finding themselves having to pivot after a long, linear career. That can be hard for them. It doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the change after you made it.”Even with all these shifts and changes, more Millennial women in the workplace are facing burnout, according to Fast Company. Author Kelly Clay cites a number of studies, including one from McKinsey that says women make up 53 percent of the entry level positions in a company. That dwindles to 37 percent of women at the mid-management level, and drops off to 26 percent women are the vice president level of women leaders.“But beyond high expectations, many millennials burn out at around age 30 because they are unhappy in their jobs and don’t see a clear career path,” according to Clay.If flexibility of overall career path is the norm for women in the workplace, then companies understanding the impact of flexible work on profits and investment is necessary. Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, writes in Open For Business that 80 percent of companies offer flexible work options—that is working from home, having flexible hours and other options.Yet Fell reports most companies don’t adequately track the impact of flex work on their bottom line. In a study of 80 companies that offer flex work, she said 87 percent say it increases productivity and 69 percent say it’s a recruiting tool.But companies need to keep checking on the impact of these flex work policies, which may be the answer for burnout as well as shifting career paths.Fell writes that “different types of work flexibility can have different results–telecommuting options, flexible or alternative schedules, etc.–and it’s important to identify which are actually making the most positive impacts on the productivity, performance, and engagement within their company.”Chideya offers encouragement for those who are experiencing episodic careers, or what she also calls “slash careers,” or simultaneous microcareers.“Sometimes, a good-enough job can help you get the great job,” she tells Eisenberg. “Then, you can tell an employer where you want to work: ‘There was a round of layoffs and I’ve been looking for a job I’d really like, but in the meantime I’m doing this.’ That sounds pretty entrepreneurial, even if it’s volunteering, and it makes you scrappy and reliable.”