How to Stay & Rise, Rather Than Leave

Guest contributed by Avery-Taylor PhilipsFemale Boss

More and more often we hear stories of women in executive positions leaving the corporate world and setting up their own businesses. Female entrepreneurship has been on the rise in recent years. Why is this and what causes women to leave their executive positions rather than continuing to progress within their organizations?

Women face many challenges, barriers and obstacles in the corporate world and evidence suggests that gender equality within the workplace is stalling. It appears that one barrier to women rising in the corporate world could be the lack of flexibility in allowing women time off to raise their children. A recent study from Visier, a workforce analytics firm, showed that gender wage gap at large United States employers widens at age 32 when women earn 90% of their male counterpart’s income. There is no data in this study to suggest that this is because 32 is the age that many women leave work to have and care for children, as many women do not have children at 32, so although it could be correlatory it is not 100% causal. What does happen is that it is the time when workers start to advance up the corporate ladder. The study noted that men and women seem to hold the same number of management positions through their 20s, but on hitting 32, men hold a significantly higher number of these positions.

This cycle leads to less and less women in executive positions, never really turning the tables on the issue of women in executive committee positions. In fact, today women run 30% of the the worlds businesses, but only 5% of the largest ones have women in the top echelons.

Is there a way to get around this? What can we as women do about it? An alternate way we can respond is by refusing to leave. Despite inevitable frustrations, is it worth sticking around, perhaps staying to rise, especially if the company is one you believe in? While there may not be one right answer to this complex question, there are women who have chosen to stick around, rising and reinventing their careers within their fields of expertise.

One such woman is Holly Peterson. After graduating from Brown University, Peterson spent some years traveling all over the world as a network television producer for ABC News. “I completely understand why Harvard-educated women say, ‘I’m not going to work sixteen hours a day and do a ton of travel when I have three kids,’” Peterson says. “But what they don’t understand is that there’s a deep melancholy that sets in, and they wake up at 47 and literally don’t know what to do. No one’s going to hire you.”

Unlike many women in the same position, Ms. Peterson chose to stick with her career. Apart from being a novelist, she juggles two other jobs including writing a regular column for Town and Country as well as serving as president of the Joan Ganz Cooney Foundation, to promote early childhood education and criminal justice reform. While her choices may not suit all women, they do serve as a reminder on how women can make it to the top while defining their own success.

Ms. Peterson isn’t alone. A previous article on theglasshammer discusses the complexities of the opt-out conversation and show that in a study authored by Joni Hersch, Professor of Law and Economics at Vanderbilt Law School, it was found that a vast majority of women were staying in their careers. Opting out was only observable in a tiny segment of the population Hersch studied. “They like working, and would prefer that to not working. It’s not just about being able to afford not to work. It takes a lot of money to stay entertained if you don’t have a job,” she said with a laugh.

Maybe you share the same sentiments as the subjects of Hersch’s study, or are quite taken by Ms. Peterson’s path — either way, it begs the question: how else can we, as women, stay and rise? The Glass Hammer has previously written about the strategies for surmounting career obstacles, and following these tips can help you get to the top, in turn opening the doors for women in management.

As a woman, it’s important to be confident in your abilities. As stated by the Collat School of Business, “One big advantage women offer the business world and management in particular is that they have different sets of life and work experiences than men do and thus different perspectives. This leads to different opinions, different preferences, and different strategies.” In reality, women make exceptional leaders. Acknowledging adversity is key to gaining confidence. “Adversity really does make you stronger,” says Frances Albán, CEO of Albán Communications. “It builds character and resilience. The key is to not let your ego interfere with your ability to stay afloat during hard times.”

Secondly, as mentioned previously on theglasshammer, it is vital to network authentically. In any career, networking plays a huge role is rising up the career ladder. Studies show that women value authenticity but see networking as fake and disruptive. Reconciling this is possible, especially with the prospect of networking in a genuine manner. While men still flourish in the old boy’s network, women need to become authentic networkers, and build advantageous professional relationships.

To stay and rise means putting up with the frustrations that come alongside inequalities, gender biases and more within a traditional workplace. It means having to face your own insecurities, step out of your comfort zone, and still remain true to yourself. But, it also means the tapping into the already existing potential and ability you have to make it to the top and be a driving factor in changing workplace norms.

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