"It’s time to reframe the narrative that says college-educated, professional women who pause their careers have nothing to offer the workforce."
In this thoroughly researched book, Lisen Stromberg makes an impassioned plea that women leave behind their doubts and guilt about trading their “all in, all the time” professional careers for a “pause” for parenthood. She covers the gamut of options for how it can be done, with loads of suggestions and anecdotes about the many paths a parent can take. Through the telling of these stories and the many tips contained in the book, the reader can gain confidence that their decision to press pause on their career can be celebrated as opening up possibilities, rather than shutting them down.
YOU CAN DO THIS!
"We need a new narrative that recognizes the realities of women’s (and men’s) lives."
One thing that makes pausing possible is the shear variety of ways one can break from traditional employment. This book identifies three broad categories:
- The Cruiser: She (or he) downshifts to reduced responsibilities and shifts again when parenting responsibilities lighten.
- The Boomeranger: She (or he) leaves entirely, and then returns full force to their previous industry and career.
- The Pivoter: She (or he) steps away and returns to the work world in a different capacity, having evaluated their personal goals, priorities, and interests. The result can be a new profession, becoming an entrepreneur, and/ or committing to social change.
Just knowing there is no “one size fits all” way to pause takes the sting out of a difficult decision. Stromberg’s original research also showed that women who paused and returned felt they had gained valuable skills and believed they had found that holy grail—better work-life balance. And 82% returned to work with more confidence!
Know thyself: Open your eyes to your beliefs
"People told me that if I paused it would be ‘career suicide’ and I would never be able to re-enter in a way that would be satisfying. I am so delighted to say that they were SO wrong. People were eager to welcome me back in. (This) is a story I wish more young women could hear instead of the fear-inducing narratives that were presented to me…"
When confronted with the decision of possibly pausing their career, women (and men) can be their own worst enemies if they listen to their own untrue and limiting beliefs.
If you internalize the narrative that a pause makes a parent less valuable in the work world, you risk making that a reality. Instead, consider the observation of Ruth Ross, an EVP in HR at Wells Fargo. She saw women who paused as particularly successful after reentry, because their time away gave them perspective and commitment. She credited them with “authentic engagement with work”—a much sought-after quality these days.
To recalibrate those beliefs, consider this: in her research, Stromberg found that something like 90% of those who paused for up to 5 years had no regrets about doing so (and 97% who stayed out for less than 2 years had no regrets). 69% percent felt they were “back on track” within a year of reentry. And the accomplishment of those who paused and those who didn’t was quite similar (30% vs 35% achieved senior management level).
And buying into negative beliefs about your future may keep you from using your time “out” to your advantage. Think strategically about your volunteer commitments, using them to build your network so you can leverage new contacts when it’s time.
It’s not just a “woman’s problem.” You guys can help, too.
"It takes courage, the willingness to step out of the norm, and the humility to recognize your own role in the problem. Here’s the thing. I’m a grandfather. If we men don’t engage in this issue, nothing is going to change for the next generation."
There are many ways men can help shift the narrative around pausing.
You (men) can be a supportive boss or coworker. But beware: rather than assuming you know what that mother-to-be is thinking, find out what she wants. “I’ll support you, whatever you decide,” is far preferable to “Don’t you want to stay home once you deliver?” Don’t make assumptions.
You can be a supportive spouse. Sheryl Sandburg famously advised women that their choice of partner was perhaps their most important career decision. It benefits both of you if your wife can make peace with both her professional and her parenting roles, so together figure out how truly to share the load.
You can be a vocal ally to women in your workplace. Stromberg cites the story of Rich Goldberg, who founded the Cisco Men for Inclusion group. Members make a public pledge to the value of inclusion in an industry that’s notoriously male-dominated.
You can take a stand on company and governmental policies on paid parental leave. Stromberg exposes the shameful record the US has in providing paid leave vs the rest of the developed world. And she also notes that 93 percent of Millennial men said paternity leave was crucial in deciding whether they took a job. You can help by following the lead of Josh Levs. He challenged Time Warner’s uneven take on parental leave in 2013. Expecting his third child, he asked for 10 weeks paid leave, the same as is given to new mothers (vs 2 weeks for new fathers). His fight eventually resulted in Time Warner’s addition of four more paid weeks for new fathers. Levs says he regularly gets emails of thanks from his coworkers, and he is thrilled with his role of enacting some change, even if pure equality didn’t result.
So, what can you do within yourself, your organization, or the world to change the perception of what a pause for parenting might mean?