Is caregiving as valuable as breadwinning?

I’ve been reading Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter this week. The book follows on from a controversial article she wrote in 2012 in The Atlantic “Why women still can’t have it all“. She had left her role as director of Policy Planning at the US State Department to return to an academic career, as she wanted to have more time with her teenage sons. At the time she was criticised for ‘dropping out’ and betraying her feminist ideas – incredible, considering she was returning to another high-level full-time role.

Now Anne-Marie Slaughter has come forward with a big vision – to ‘finish the business’ of creating equality between men & women, work & family. She sees the key to doing so as changing society and the workplace to value caregiving alongside breadwinning. She suggests that the core problem for gender equality in the workforce is that caregiving has been devalued and discriminated against.

Putting aside the debate on feasibility of the societal and workplace changes she is advocating, there is an important message in the book for those who have taken a career break to look after children or other family members.

We can, all of us, stand up for care.

It’s hard to disagree with Anne-Marie Slaughter’s statement that caregiving has been devalued. However, as individuals, we don’t have to go along with this. As Slaughter puts it: We can, all of us, stand up for care. It’s refreshing to have a powerful woman challenging the assumption that the work we do as professionals is harder than the work we do as parents or caregivers. She concludes that caregiving done well ‘is just as valuable and formative an experience as competition’. This isn’t about valuing one above the other or returning to a world where most mothers stay at home, it’s about recognising that family and work are equally important. The work-family choices that people make – working full-time, part-time, at home – should be equally validated and facilitated for both men and women. Slaughter echoes our view that there should be freedom for people to slow down or pause their career for caregiving reasons without stigma or penalty.

Admittedly, society and most of the workplace may be lagging far behind in this realisation. But standing up for care is a useful mantra to remember if you find yourself, when you’re ready to return to the workforce, feeling embarrassed or apologetic about having taken a long career break. Or feeling a failure or a poor female role model when you compare yourself with ex-colleagues who didn’t pause their career and are now in top-level roles. Having the freedom to compete at the highest levels of a career doesn’t make it an obligation to do so. The value that you have brought to your family can constitute just as much of a success for this phase of your life.

Posted by Julianne

Setting your career compass: identifying your strengths

When you’re planning to re-start your career after a break, one of the challenges is working out whether to go back to your old field or to try something different .. and if so, what? One of my clients told me she wanted to develop an internal compass to point her in the right direction towards a job she would enjoy and find fulfilling.

How do we go about developing our own internal career compass? Thanks to recent positive psychology research, we’re now much clearer on what makes us happy at work. Studies consistently find that one of the key aspects is using your strengths. A true strength is something that you are good at AND energised by – maybe developing new ideas, analysing, seeing the big picture or empathising with others [We can be good at things but find them draining; these aren’t strengths in this sense].

Why focus your career choices on your strengths?


People who use their strengths more*:

1. Are happier
2. Are more confident
3. Have higher levels of self-esteem
4. Have higher levels of energy and vitality
5. Experience less stress
6. Are more resilient
7. Are more likely to achieve their goals
8. Perform better at work
9. Are more engaged at work
10. Are more effective at developing themselves and growing as individuals

*Source: Centre for Applied Positive Psychology.

Convinced? So, it’s clearly a good start point to ask yourself which jobs would best play to your strengths. However first you need to work out what your strengths are …

Identifying your strengths


I’ve found that most people can give a long list of their weaknesses, but few can describe their strengths in detail, and even fewer can pinpoint what strengths differentiate them from the next person. Often we don’t value our natural strengths: if you naturally get on with most people, you may assume that it’s nothing special and not realise that building relationships is a core strength for you.

Ways to build up your personal strengths list


1. Use an online strengths assessment: Strengthsfinder 2.0 is a good choice & one of the easiest to interpret yourself
2. For another perspective, get strengths feedback from your friends & family: ask them what they think you’re good at and to give you specific examples so you don’t just think they’re ‘being nice’ (& resist the temptation to ask them for your weaknesses too!)
3. Keep a note over the next few weeks of times when you are engaged in an activity and feel highly energised. Think about whether you are using one or more of your strengths at these moments. It can be helpful to talk this through with a friend who can help you to ‘strengths-spot’.

Once you’ve better understood your strengths & thought about where you can best use them, you’re on the way to setting your career compass. We’ll talk more about other aspects to consider (such as values and interests) in future posts.

Further reading
For more tips and advice on career decision-making see: using your instincts, too few choices and too many choices.

Posted by Julianne 

Tips for a productive summer

With the final arrival of summer you might be thinking about
putting your return to work plans on hold until the autumn.  After all, nobody recruits during July and
August, do they?  While recruitment does
tail off during these months, there are plenty of things you can do to help you
move closer to your return, so that you are better prepared when autumn comes
around.  Your summer holiday can provide
an ideal time for reflection, organising and testing out your skills.  You might not be able to make use of all
these tips: it will depend what stage you have reached in your thinking and
preparation, but there are some that everyone could start.  But don’t think of these activities as homework!  You need to make the most of the opportunity to relax and have fun, so that you feel restored and ready for the next steps in your plan.
 
  • Create a network chart – while waiting to board
Although you might not be ready to start networking, it is
never too early to start creating your network chart.  I recommend you divide your chart into three
categories on which you list everyone you can think of: people who are easy to
call directly; people to whom you need an introduction; people you’d love to
meet but don’t know.  When adding names
to the chart remember people from different phases of your life: your past – your
school and university classmates as well as former employers, colleagues and
employees; your present – other parents (if you have children at school) and
people you meet through your voluntary work, hobbies or religious activity; your
future – members of alumni networks and professional associations that you could
join as well as people you’d possibly like to meet.  After the summer break, we’ll be continuing
our series of posts about networking so you’ll be able to make full use of the
chart you have created.  Keep adding to
this chart as you think of more people and as you start to connect, long after
the holiday.
 
  • Get clearer about what you might do next – on your
    sunlounger
Whether you have too many choices or too few, a useful way
to think about what to do next is to think back to a work role (or part of a role) that you found
fulfilling and reflect on what made it so.
Was it a group of like-minded colleagues? An expression of your
creativity? Your own intellectual or personal growth? Your ability to make a
difference to others? Your experience of freedom and independence?  Whatever gave you fulfillment then will be
related to your deep values and will still be of great importance to you in the
future.  These elements will need to be
present in what you choose to do next, to give you the motivation to search
for it.  Time spent reflecting on your
values and the things you find fulfilling can also provide clues about what you
might like to do next.  You might discover
elements of a previous role that you can craft into a new one, you might
develop a business idea or you might realise that you want to retrain in
something which has previously interested you.
 
  • Practise your story – over drinks
Meeting people on holiday that you are often unlikely to see
again, provides a low risk way to practice telling your story, if you have created
one.  It gives you an opportunity to test
out a new answer to the dreaded question of ‘what do you do?’  It might even lead to a networking opening,
as I discovered when telling my story to the father of a family with whom my
family had shared a hot, dusty and uncomfortable beach buggy ride.  He turned out to be a partner in a big four
accounting firm and after the holiday introduced me to his head of HR, a great
addition to my network.
  • Start to fill in your LinkedIn entry – when you are home
LinkedIn will be an essential tool for you when you are
ready to return: it can bring you to the attention of prospective employers,
build your profile through the groups you join, alert you to advertised roles
and provide an additional way to network.
You can build it in steps, section by section and keep refining it as
you go, so working on it can easily be fitted into short gaps in your day.  If you have developed a story (and tested it
out on holiday) you can put this as your Summary.  Using your networking chart you can start to
build your connections.  You can explore
the groups and join the ones that look interesting. If you do a section a week,
by the end of the summer you could have a complete entry.
Have a good summer, rest and recharge.  I’ll be back in late-August.
Posted by Katerina