Just after my second child was born, a friend said to me, “How is it possible that before kids, we would complain about how busy we were? What on earth were we doing?”
I don’t think it was made-up. Pre-kids, we genuinely were busy: careers, family, personal lives, events, volunteer work, but adding two children under five to the mix? Busyness increased to astonishing new levels. Balancing all of my commitments became almost impossible. I took a few months to reflect on what my next move should be, even contemplating leaving the financial sector, where I’d spent over 18 years building a career. But pretty quickly I realized I wasn’t ready to bow out yet, and that my industry experience made me a valuable commodity. I knew I wanted to continue working, but on my and my family’s terms.
I’m not alone in feeling this way.
After having children, 43% of women take a career break or leave the workforce entirely. Harvard Business Review
A study by Harvard Business Review found that after having children 43% of women take a career break or leave the workforce entirely, and increasingly men are calling for better parental leave terms and flexible hours.When the average workweek of an investment banker clocks in at 80-90 hours and the workaholic culture requires firms to mandate time-off at weekends, it’s no wonder new parents feel like they have to choose: career or family?
Unfortunately, the timing of this crossroads often coincides with when bankers are hitting their stride and approaching the coveted status of “industry expert”. For those that worked so hard to build a career, it’s a shame that this knowledge and experience goes to waste. It’s an even bigger shame for our industries and the economy. So why isn’t more effort made to keep working parents in the workforce?
In the publishing industry, I have seen many friends transition from full-time positions to freelance roles once they became new mothers. While this comes with its pros and cons, the flexibility is enviable and in finance this concept doesn’t exist. For bankers who are parents, maintaining their pre-kid pace of work may be unsustainable, but taking a break—even a short one—can make it difficult to stay current with teams, companies, and even the industry. Things move fast, and once you’re on the off-ramp, even temporarily, u-turns become tough. It needs to be easier for working parents to return to the jobs and industries where they accumulated years, if not decades, of valuable experience, connections, and knowledge.
"I want to grow with a company and become ingrained in its strategy and culture. I don’t think wanting to have a family as well should make that a fantasy."
Companies such as Second Shift are bridging this gap. It helps create part-time professional opportunities for women with experience and aptitude working in finance and marketing. To date, it has 300 members and has placed over 45 women in project-based jobs. It’s a great idea, and I know I’m not the only person who thought, “Finally!” when I heard about it.
Returning to a career needn’t be limited to project work. While short-term assignments provide much-needed flexibility, to me a major drawback is that no equity is built with a company or management team. Plus hopping from project to project, learning new sets of rules, and figuring out the dynamics of each team is exhausting. I want to grow with a company and become ingrained in its strategy and culture. I don’t think wanting to have a family as well should make that a fantasy.
An alternative to project work is part-time work. Something I am fortunate to have found at Pellucid Analytics. In initial conversations with our CEO, Adrian Crockett, I explained I wasn’t ready for a full-time commitment, and it turned out not be a problem. The company recognized my experience as more valuable than finding someone who could do a typical work week.
So far, it’s a win-win arrangement. Pellucid gets a senior executive with deep industry connections—something very valuable for younger companies—made affordable by a three-day workweek. In return, I have a long-term, flexible position and can invest my time and energy with one firm, one management team, ultimately improving my career standing.
Excellent time management is critical to a successful part-time arrangement. No frivolous meetings, no drawn-out bureaucracy, no facetime mandate. I work fewer, but longer days, than I used to, packing in everything crucial to make the best use of my time. My team understands I’m only an email away and doesn’t expect me to respond instantly when I’m not in the office. I am also honest with my clients about my schedule, and so far there have been no concerns. As long as their needs are met, what do they care?
Will this work for everyone and every position? Maybe not this exact formula, but with technology I think firms can be a lot more flexible about what defines a work day or week. Businesses such as Second Shift play a valuable, practical role in enabling working parents to re-enter the workforce in suitable positions, but support needs to come from the top. I encourage companies to be more open-minded to different schedules, try out new ideas with smaller teams and think creatively about how to retain new parents, so when the time comes to once again “lean-in” it will be easier to do so.
Finally, a note to my fellow working parents: I understand the need to put on the brakes. And also the fear of walking away from everything you worked so hard to build. Think creatively and propose a flexible solution; don’t just assume it won't happen. If you’re like me, you'll treasure a career outlet. After two days at home, I’m practically skipping out the door to get to the office.
Every working parent faces a different scenario and set of challenges. How else do you think companies can make it easier to keep your career thriving without it being all-consuming? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.