Different career stages lead to different choices

In Executive Search work we constantly contact people about their next potential career opportunity.

We live every day with candidates weighing up the level of disruption they might want to cause their families or colleagues by moving interstate or to a new country.

Moving to a new role can create a whole set of new demands, particularly in the first few months when you are working to get your head around what is expected. Maybe, it might just not be the right time.

It’s helpful to take the longer view on your career, and sometimes to ‘hasten slowly’ and stay where you are for a while, if it suits your current circumstances.  

There will always be trade-offs on both the career and home fronts. Decide what they are, what can work, and then get on with it.

While the sentiment that ‘you can have it all, just not at the same time’, has been credited recently to Oprah Winfrey, I first heard it stated more than 10 years ago by Jude Munro, then the Chief Executive of Brisbane City Council, one of the largest municipalities in the world.

She was addressing a cross section of executives about the approaches the Council was taking to ensure they had a sufficiently diverse workforce and that they did not lose good people who could otherwise be better supported through family-friendly policies and practices.

Her willingness to articulate that she knew we all had to make different choices at different times was refreshing, particularly at the time.

I made a conscious decision to stay in a career in my 20s that suited my circumstances. At the time, teaching gave me flexibility to take on further study while also managing a growing family.

We women have the wombs so, for now, on average, we are more likely to take a bit more time out than men; but who knows what will happen in time . . .

And significant numbers of men and women are making decisions that mean each of them, at some stage, will work in paid employment less than full time.

Having to be accountable for the care and wellbeing of others—children, a parent or another family member—forces us to exercise, or uncover, our abilities to prioritize, make trade-offs, ask for assistance, and delegate.

Alisa Bowen is a digital leader who has worked for many years at the nexus of digital consumer technologies and business model disruption inside traditional media organisations. Today, she is based in Los Angeles, as an international technology executive for the Disney organization.

She is aware that she has always been something of a ‘workaholic’ and earlier in her career she had difficulty trusting others to do their jobs well.

She was used to working in male-oriented environments. So it was with some fear that she told her boss she was pregnant with her first child. She was concerned about how she would balance everything and keep up her performance if she could not work 18 hours a day, six days a week.

She was surprised with his reaction, which went something like: ‘this baby will be the making of your executive leadership, because you will just simply have to delegate. And you’ll learn for yourself that sheer hard work is not enough. You will have to work smarter, not harder, to keep advancing’.

Alisa notes that he was 100% correct and that’s when she began to focus more on building teams and networking based on meaningful connections and relationships.  She wishes that she had realized earlier on, that ‘life is not a sprint but a marathon’.

Having one parent take a career pause or a role that is less demanding in terms of constant availability has been common for women, but not as much for men.

It usually comes about from a good discussion about how to get things done, how to identify different priorities and what timely trade-offs need sacrificing.

Taking the ‘foot off the career pedal’ is the description that J.P. Morgan’s Lalitha Biddulph uses to describe how she and her husband Ross approached making choices when their children were under five years old.

They decided that Lalitha was experiencing considerable ‘career runway’ so Ross took three years out of the workforce and then returned to work part time for the following five years. They believed this approach would ensure that their children had the values they believed were important.

Glenys Beauchamp, Secretary / CEO of the Australian Department of Health, took nine years ‘out’ when her three children were young and doesn’t regret this at all.

At the time she had to resign rather than take leave. It meant that when she rejoined the paid workforce, she took a role considerably more junior than the one she had left nine years before, and also had to rebuild her personal confidence.

As her career re-ignited, she and her husband made choices that included his career then taking a ‘back seat’, so that one partner was always able to have more time with their three children.

Christine Kilpatrick, Chief Executive Officer at Melbourne Health, shared that, earlier in her career, she and her husband invested heavily in nannies so she could return to work within a couple of months.  Her view is that if you stay out of the workforce for too long, it is too hard to get back in. She says, it’s important to have a career that suits you and you never know what lies ahead.

Of course, where there are babies and children involved, you can not get away from having to learn to embrace the ensuing chaos.

Adapted from: The Agile Executive: Embracing Career Risks and Rewards
by Marianne Broadbent