Women Need To Stop
Choosing Career Or Family –
And Take The Third Way Instead

Featured in The Daily Telegraph

Last week, while speaking on a panel on how to negotiate your worth at the Telegraph’s Women Mean Business Live event, confirmed something intriguing I have seen in recent years: that female workers in the UK seem to approach the question of career or family as black and white. 

Either you work full time, with all the joys of long hours, overtime and commuting that come with it, or you become a stay-at-home mum. 

There’s no in-between.

In the hundreds of career conversations I’ve had with women through my coaching and consulting firm, Women in Negotiation, I have found time and time again that female Brits – far more than those in other parts of the world, it seems – after becoming unhappy in their careers, decide to drop out of the workforce completely.

These women work full-time and do far more than their fair share of the housework (women do two thirds of this, on average, as it is), and also take on the vast majority of the ‘emotional labour’ at home, like setting up doctor’s appointments for the kids, organising birthday parties, and making sure grandma receives enough attention et al. Add to all of this a horrendous commute and an inbox that is swelling at all times of day and night, and it’s no wonder, they feel as though their mental and physical health is compromised.

Compared to what they are earning, it just doesn’t seem worth it to them. 

And so these women quit their corporate careers, feeling that is the only viable option to keep their family – and themselves – ticking over.

If staying at home full-time makes you happy, more power to you. But what I so often hear is that this new life at home doesn’t make them happy, either. The daily grind of permanent childcare turns out to be neither easy nor fulfilling; many share their sense of guilt and regret at “throwing away” their hard-earned education and experience. Becoming financially dependent on their partner puts pressure on their partners and the relationship, and making their kids the centre of their universe can also be a huge burden to put on little ones. Was leaving their job, they wonder, really the right decision?

Meanwhile the companies they parted ways with lose out, too. Studies vary, but the cost of an employee leaving is estimated to be between 15-400pc of that employee’s annual salary in recruiting, training and other costs. I know from experience that facilitating a set-up that works for both the employee and their family is far better than their splitting completely; an outcome that is, for both sides, completely unnecessary. It’s a fallacy to think that as a woman, you have to choose between a corporate career or your home life – that it’s a black or white, all or nothing, zero sum game. You are made for more than just one or the other. There is third way, a golden middle ground, in which you can have both a fulfilling career and a healthy and happy life.

In order to get there, you need to have a meaningful career conversation with your boss. 

Find out what it is that they truly need, and share with them how you’re going to achieve that.

And, importantly, discuss what framework you need to reach those goals. If they’re excited enough about the future you have envisioned together and have faith enough you can enact it, they’ll want to set you up for success.

Would it make your world easier if you could start half an hour later every day to drop your children off at daycare in relative peace? Would it help if, one day a week, you could work from home and  plough through the unread messages in your inbox without being sidetracked by colleagues’ interjections? What would make the biggest difference for you?

‘Rubbish!’ I can hear you snort. ‘My boss will never let me do any of those things!’

Fine, but have you tried? I mean, really tried? Prepared thoroughly for this career defining conversation and practiced it with someone you trust until it felt comfortable and authentic?

I advise my clients to do that every single day – to get their dream jobs with a set-up (and salary) that works for them. The day of the Women Mean Business Live event, for example, one client who is currently pregnant with her third child managed to negotiate a new position at her current firm that works far better for her family – not to mention a 75pc salary increase.

So before you take the drastic decision of quitting your job and staying at home fulltime, give negotiating your role and set-up a genuine chance: just have the darn conversation. 

You never just how much it could change your life for the better.

Wies Bratby teaches women to negotiate their worth through online group coaching programmes and is also a Fellow at the De Witt Negotiation Institute for Advanced Negotiation.


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