When Women Sacrifice for Balance

by Emily Jasper on November 2, 2011

As a woman in her late 20s, I’m firmly seated on the Career Track: I got my undergraduate degree from a great school, I worked my way through three promotions in four years, I’m working at getting my MBA from another great school, and I have been keeping up my personal brand all the while. I have a Career Action Plan, all kinds of goals, and if it all works out, I should be set.

But what about the Life Track?

I wrote a year ago about making time for the big things in life: falling in love, having a family, doing all the bucket list things I always wanted to do. It was my goal to spend a year focusing so I could make some room in my life for those things.

It turns out, more women are focusing on the Life Track, too. Someone shared survey results with me by More magazine: about 43% of women surveyed say they are less ambitious now than they were 10 years ago; only 25 percent of women are working towards their next promotion. Now, these are women age 35-60, and it would be interesting to see what the 25-35 group would say.

The report comes from the third annual “Women and Workplace” survey which finds that 65 percent of college-educated women nationwide prefer to have more free time in their lives than make more money at their jobs. In fact, 40 percent would even take a pay cut for more flexibility.

“Since the 1970’s women have poured into the American workplace – and now we’re at a crossroads,” says More magazine Editor in Chief, Lesley Jane Seymour. “Stymied by our efforts for advancement and confused about how to manage our personal life and a promising career, today’s career-minded women are sacrificing ambition for balance.”

Is it really a sacrifice? Or more like a compromise? I feel that as the dynamics of the workplace change, that as people strive to grow meaningful relationships with their families, this is an effort for employees to say: Let me be present in my family’s life, and then I can be present in my job without distraction. It’s not that easy, though.

With today’s weak economy and high unemployment rate, 33 percent of women believe it’s career suicide to ask for more flexibility at work.  Given the demand structure of today’s workplace, 92 percent of women value workplace flexibility, which is up markedly from 2 years ago (73%). And it’s not just women with children— single women are also choosing to forgo the corner office. In fact, more women without children (68%) would rather have more free time than make more money at work, than those with children (62%).

And as a single woman, I would agree. Just because I don’t have kids or a husband, doesn’t mean I want to pick up the slack for everyone else. There are so many things that we may need to take care of outside of work: aging parents, sibling relationships, and community involvement. Just making it to the gym can be difficult if you’re expected to be working 24/7, and your own health can take a toll (affecting your job performance). I think the trend is going to move towards everyone expecting more flexibility, not just women.

But you still have to do your job, and I think that’s going to be what keeps companies hesitant.

I think the obvious thing here is that women are putting more life consideration into their career decisions. “Today’s working women aren’t throwing in the towel; they want to work. They are just ‘redefining ambition’ to include a career that offers flexibility and enables them the opportunity to pursue a fulfilling life outside of work,” adds Seymour.

Image via Wikipedia.