Women's Work | Curating your Career

As work and personal lives become irrevocably entwined, deciding which profession to pursue is only one of the important details to consider when preparing for a long and successful career.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is the first career related question most people are asked.  From an early age we are led to believe that there is one correct answer to this question and that finding the answer is the key to our future success.  Unfortunately, it is not often as straightforward as choosing a profession, applying for a job and working your way up the career ladder. For women, in particular, the trajectory of life is far more complicated. The way in which we choose to structure our work life will impact our earning potential, financial security and degree of life satisfaction. 

Women’s life trajectories are made up of a combination of many different roles. Being a student, career woman, mother, single parent, partner, family member, widower and primary carer for a child or an elderly relative are just a few roles that women play.  The essential common denominator for all of us is that we have the means to be self-sufficient and financially secure regardless of which path we take. 

Understanding the potential complexities one might be faced with in the future will go a long way to helping women achieve independence and success in a system of work that is not yet designed to support the lives we lead.  

| Facing the facts.  

Unfortunately, despite positive developments, gender equality (or the lack thereof) continues to be a precarious foundational element upon which women must build their careers.   The  Australian Human Rights Commission reports that Australia has dropped to 35th in the global index measuring gender equality, and while we score very highly in the area of educational attainment, Australia lags behind in the essential areas of economic participation, opportunity and political empowerment. 

According to the AHRC, factors that continue to impact women’s careers include;  

  • The national gender wage gap;

  • Undervaluing of female-dominated industries;

  • Over-representation of women in part-time roles; 

  • Under-representation of women in leadership roles; 

  • The percentage of women in primary carer roles;

  • Primary parental duties more likely falling to women;

  • Primary responsibility for unpaid work falling to women; and

  • Below average superannuation balances, resulting in the increased risk of poverty in retirement years. 

While every effort must be made to drive systemic improvements in this area, as individuals, women must be prudent in adopting a proactive approach to thriving in the employment environment in which we find ourselves. 

| Career Curation - Navigating the non-linear career path.

Career curation involves taking proactive steps toward achieving a model of work-life integration that works for you and being comfortable rejecting the idea that linear career progression is the only version of ‘success’. It is about taking action at every stage of your career and in your life to ensure that you maximise the choices available to you now and in the future.   

Deciding ‘what’ profession you are going to pursue is simply the tip of the iceberg.  How you would like to structure your time; where you would like to be located; what motivates you to work; and what other priorities exist in your life at a particular stage are all important considerations. The intersection of all of these points is the ideal place to aim.   

Career Considerations | ‘What’ you do is only one piece of the career puzzle.

Steps to ‘Future-Proof’ your career?

Having control is about ensuring you are best placed at any given time to make the best possible decisions to support your career.  Here are just a few suggestions to set you up for success. 

| Set goals and periodically re-evaluate

Failing to plan is planning to fail, or so the saying goes.  Consider how you would like your future to unfold. Personally, I always knew I wanted to strike a balance between spending time with my children and my career.  Achieving this has required a conscious and continual effort to ensure that work I commit to is correlative to my career aspirations while affording me the flexibility to be available to my family in the way I want.  

Knowing what you would like life to look like is the first step in ‘curating’ your career. 

  • Regularly invest time in identifying the key milestones you hope to achieve in your life.

  • Create a plan to strive toward these goals.  

  • Have the courage to adapt your plans if, and when, the need arises. 

| Educate yourself

Education is key.  Whether it is a formal qualification, training or on the job experience, ensuring that you have the necessary skills and knowledge to add value to an organisation is essential.  

When considering ‘what’ profession you would like to pursue, take into account the extensibility within the field you have chosen. Having options down the track will be beneficial.  

Using a checklist, assess the degree of flexibility that may exist in a potential vocation; 

  • Are the skills transferable? 

  • Is there an opportunity to climb the corporate ladder?

  • Is a move from a technical role to an administrative role or vice versa possible?

  • Will further study allow you to move easily into another field, 

  • Could you open your own business? 

  • Is there an opportunity to consult in this field? 

  • Is this profession conducive to working remotely?   

| Actively manage your finances 

Navigating a disrupted career can be an expensive exercise.  Taking extended periods of leave, working reduced hours or relocating all have a significant impact on career progression and income, so having contingency available is critical to minimise risk and enable flexibility. Considering women are already at a significant disadvantage when it comes to earnings (the current full-time wage gap according the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency was 14.1% in 2018) AND are likely to experience disrupted contributions to superannuation, women must take active control over their finances.  The critical nature of this issue cannot be overstated. At its most basic the following advice is offered… 

Save, Save, Save.  Pay yourself first…. wherever possible create a financial buffer.  Having an amount of money available (either in cash or investments) to cover yourself when the unexpected happens is the key to maintaining your freedom.  Financial security will allow you to make changes when the opportunity or need arises. 

Sort out your superannuation.  Know what you are entitled to, how you can maximise your superannuation and where it is held. The average superannuation balances for women at retirement (aged 60-64) are 42.0% lower than those for men according to the ASFA Research and Resources Centre.  Focusing on wealth creation from the earliest age will make a significant difference to your balance at retirement age.  

Seek out professional financial advice.  Find an expert you trust and discuss your options.  

| Build relationships and manage your professional reputation

Foster mature professional relationships.  Treat every interaction and relationship as important and build a strong professional network around you.  Many of these people will advocate for you in the future whether it be as a referee, a future employer, a colleague, a mentor or a business partner. 

Whenever possible actively seek positive role models in your career and be willing to ask for, and accept, their advice and support.  Working with a mentor and drawing on the experience of those who have gone before us is invaluable.

Contribute, be valuable, build trust and give back. Look at your skills and experience creatively. Remember there are women that may need your help in lifting themselves up as well. The idea of career flexibility or work-life balance is often the domain of the privileged.

Surround yourself with positive and supportive friends and family.  Aside from the fact that life is richer when filled with wonderful people, it is far easier to be successful when you have a network you can call upon to help.  Whether it be when you need a laugh or a meal or a babysitter or a ride or advice or simply a sanity check these are the people who will get your through.

| Maintain a relevant portfolio 

  • Look for opportunities for continued education throughout your career.  Staying interested and informed will ensure that your experience remains relevant and valuable. 

  • Look for opportunities to contribute to society in ways other than in the workplace.    Don’t underestimate the value you gain by performing volunteer or pro-bono work. 

  • Keep up to date with industry trends and influential stakeholders by joining the relevant associations.  

  • Attend Networking events and if possible, presenting or contribute to publications. 

  • If you choose to maintain a public Social Media presence, ensure that it is maintained in a professional manner. 

  • If you have taken a break from ‘paid employment’, you will have still been developing skills that may be transferable into your next position.  Be sure to incorporate these into you experience. 

| Think outside the square and be willing to be flexible.

Being flexible does not mean settling, selling yourself short or sacrificing your aspirations, but it does mean be open to all possibilities and opportunities in order to curate a situation in which you can be successful.  In order to find the right balance, you may need to sacrifice in one area to gain in another. If we desire flexibility, we need to be willing to be flexible in return.   

Be clear about what you CAN do.  It is so easy to focus on what we can’t do in the workplace when trying to achieve the elusive work life balance.  When mounting a case, do not underestimate your ability to contribute or the value that flexible work arrangements may have for an employer.  Be creative when approaching a conversation, be sure to promote any benefits others may stand to gain. 

| Be Honest. Be Brave.

Be honest with yourself and with others.  We are all faced with the similar challenges, although sometimes it can seem as though you are the only person who does not have it all together.  The more we talk about the realities of successfully integrating the competing priorities in your career and life the more normalised this discussion will become.   

Have the courage to take chances and to change direction if and when the opportunity arises. Never underestimate your own ability, you are no doubt far more capable that you give yourself credit for. 

I know amazing women who have completely changed direction after a change in their life’s circumstances.  Moving from a career in science to starting up a family business, from teaching to becoming a doctor, from the finance industry to graphic design.  These are not insignificant career changes, yet they are possible and many women have successfully embraced them. 

Women can do anything, so the saying goes. I really believe this to be true.  That said, it is critical that we acknowledge that while anything is possible, everything is not – at least not simultaneously.  Reaching our full potential does not happen by accident.  Considered and sometimes difficult decisions must be made in order to create the life we aspire to.  A proactive approach combined with a little good fortune will hopefully allow us to look back, financially secure and with a great sense of satisfaction that we that we did our best and achieved our goals.   

Anna Jones is Regional Partner- Europe for Many Small Things.