After seven years running her own consultancy in the alternative investment industry, Erin Halper is now the founder & CEO of The Upside, a growth and support platform for high-achieving women pursuing independent, flexible careers as consultants, independent contractors and boutique agencies. She is passionate about the future of work, especially as it pertains to flexibility and closing the pay gap. Erin believes that there are many options for finding better work/life balance if you know where to look and are equipped with the right information and tools. Erin advocates that it’s never too late to improve your career flexibility and life balance in order to live a more fulfilled (and less stressed) life.
You went to college and then you went to work. You clocked in and you clocked out. You received promotions and you rose up the ranks. And then you had a baby.
Screech, slam on the brakes and hold on tight to your third cup of coffee of the day because now you have an additional and even more demanding job title: mother.
It doesn’t take long for most women to feel like they are expected to act like they don’t have kids when they are at work and act like they don’t work when they are at home with their families. It also doesn’t take long for this lack of balance to feel unfair, unreasonable and unsustainable.
For decades women have been seeking out better work/life balance and a magic pill called flexibility. Many women stay in a career holding pattern, avoiding promotions and interesting leadership roles for fear it will take them further away from their families. Some leave the corporate world to stay home with their children, only to miss making their own money and collaborating with colleagues. Some launch new businesses, either by the straps of their boots or by raising outside capital, which requires more time commitment than a full-time job; but at least they have control of their schedule, right?
But alas, the landscape is changing. Today, with female entrepreneurs launching businesses that are driving change and the rise of conversations around non-traditional work arrangements, there are more options than ever for finding flexibility and “having it all.” As an entrepreneur in the thick of this movement, I have the hard data and sensible optimism that says that the future is bright for women who seek flexibility. Here’s why:
Between 2016 and 2018, at least a dozen female-founded companies cropped up with very similar missions of changing the way working works. Together, they are closing the pay gap and shifting views on flexible, fulfilling careers. Werk, for example, approaches the problem by helping companies build a flexible work culture. The Second Shift provides a platform for women to bid on short-term, flexible consulting gigs. Ladies Get Paid holds events and workshops that educate women on how to ask for flexibility and more money at work. Hoppin facilitates job shadowing matches to help professionals find a career they love. The Mom Project provides a job board for mid-range flexible positions nationwide. My company, The Upside, supports women pursuing independent, flexible careers via our social network, growth tools and client sourcing. The founders of these companies have met in person and voiced support of one another as we all go to battle to create more flexible, enjoyable and well-paid career opportunities for women. And from our vantage point, we are seeing huge progress and big wins.
Whether you’re posting on your local moms Facebook group or connecting in a more formalized community like HEYMAMA, more likely than not you are part of some type of network that didn’t exist five years ago. There are hundreds of communities such as Work Bigger, The Transitions Collective and Pallas Network, that have cropped up for the sole purpose of connecting like-minded working women. If you’re not a member of at least one, you may be missing out on an important opportunity to acquire knowledge from and share resources with women who are all navigating the balancing act of being a working woman and mother. The power of community is proving that we truly are better together.
I recently watched Net-a-Porter’s The Big Television Debate which highlighted four actresses discussing women and pay in their industry. Gina Rodriguez, the lead actress in Jane the Virgin, mentioned that she was offered a role for a movie, but for less money than the first actress who turned it down. She then tapped into something that many women suffer from: being thankful for the opportunity and not getting too greedy. We are now acknowledging that men do not feel this way and that we shouldn’t either. It has held us back for hundreds of years and greatly contributes to the pay and flexibility gaps. Men and women alike are finally speaking publicly (and often) about this topic and encouraging our fellow working women to reach beyond appreciation for the opportunity, and push for what we want and deserve. This includes asking for flexible work arrangements that provide better work/life balance.
Thanks to startups like Werk, companies are finally seeing the benefits of hiring flexible talent and offering flexibility as part of their mainstream work culture. Especially as millennials rise to executive positions and baby boomers sail off into retirement, business leaders are using flexibility as a tool to attract and retain top talent, especially female talent. For women in the market for promotions or new jobs, it is becoming more and more acceptable to ask about flexibility policies such as remote days, unconventional hours, job shares, and even how these policies correlate to upward mobility within the company. More than ever, women are confidently discussing these policies during the hiring process and pushing companies to further embrace the future of flexibility and work.
An Intuit report from 2010 predicted that 40% of the US workforce would be contingent—meaning freelance or part-time—by 2020. We are only a year away from that date and, although difficult to fully measure, it is clear that there are more professionals pursuing non-traditional work arrangements and careers than ever before. Companies are paying attention. They are finally realizing that not every role has to be full-time and that there are millions of high achieving professionals actually seeking out part-time work. They are also seeing that there are many benefits to be gained by creating a unique talent assortment of full-time, part-time, flexible and freelance workers in order to attract top talent and maximize efficiencies. Ultimately, this means that those who seek traditional full-time jobs still have unlimited opportunities, and those who wish to pursue more independent, flexible arrangements have a better chance than ever for landing quality, long-term flexible work.
Whether you’re working full-time or taking time off from work (or somewhere in between), there are more flexibility options today than ever. The future is certainly getting brighter for women seeking better work/life balance; however, whether you launch a company to help solve the flexibility problem or speak up for flexibility at your job, it’s critical that we continue to use our voices, ask for what we want and push for the change we deserve.
Photo by Alexis Mera.