Career Advice to My Daughters
I think it’s an entirely fair question to ask, “What of value can a middle-aged white guy possibly add to the conversation of women’s careers?” As a matter of fact, I asked that very question when we were deciding whom to invite to write for this series. I have opinions, sure, but do I have a horse in this race, or should I just shut up and observe?
Then I looked up from my computer, and saw the answer smiling back at me in an 8×10 frame. Ayla and Maryn, my two little girls. They are my ponies in this conversation. And I realized right then, I’m all in.
Ayla is ten, in fifth grade; Maryn is eight, in third. That means that their careers will start in only twelve and fourteen years (barring grad school).
“what career advice will I give my daughters twelve years from now?
Folks, I need your help. We only have a dozen years to fix a whole lot that’s still wrong within our organizations, especially the biggest ones! Twelve years? That’s the blink of an eye in Daddy years. Let’s get to it!!
The question I pose to myself as I think about this post is, “what career advice will I give my daughters twelve years from now? Of course their decisions are theirs entirely, and I’ll do my best to wait for them to come to me for said advice so they don’t think I’m meddling. But of course they’ll come (even if they end up doing exactly the opposite of what I recommend, they’ll ask). So, will I advise them to seek work in a large corporation, and strive to lead that org or (more likely) another one day? Not unless these things change – profoundly:
1. Maternity leave… and the unspoken ethic behind it. Three months paid leave? That makes me want to cry, it’s so inadequate. So hopefully, when they’re ready for kids, they’ll be in a financial position to take a year off, or three years, or whatever number of years they like. Here’s the thing that must radically change before I advise Ayla and Maryn to build a corporate leadership career: any woman who leaves the corporate world for three years will not be taken seriously when she returns. The chances of her making the C-Suite, not to mention CEO, of a large corporation are very slim. It isn’t the three years. It’s the leaving.
I know some large companies aren’t like that. Those companies need to become all companies before I advise my brilliant daughters to invest their time with large firms.
2. The ethic of the 80-hour workweek. Again, this goes unspoken, but again, I think you know it’s true: executives are expected to get to work early, to stay late into the evening, to work on weekends, to not take most of the vacation their companies give them, and to always be available via phone and email. I don’t want that kind of life for my little girls. The last time I checked, 80 hours added up to two full-time jobs.* My advice to large companies? Hire two people and expect both to have a life.
Again, some large companies aren’t like this. There is nothing inherent to largeness that makes companies act the way they do. Yes, I would absolutely guide my little girls to work for cool companies like those.
The last time I checked, 80 hours added up to two full-time jobs. My advice to large companies? Hire two people and expect both to have a life.
3. Big corporations are too often bureaucratic… and hierarchical… and run by Industrial Age command-and-control methods… and infuriatingly political. …All of which make them soul-quashing. Do I want my little girls to grow up to have their wonderful, vibrant souls quashed, their brilliant minds under-stimulated while they wait their turns to lead? What do you think?
4. What else could they do that is more emotionally rewarding? This last one will be really, really vital to the conversation we’ll have about their careers. If they can find a large company that doesn’t suck in any of the ways I’ve outlined above, then “Heck yeah!” I’ll say, “Do it, and enjoy!”
If not? Well, then maybe instead of a big company with those three organizational cancers destroying them from within, maybe they’d be happier finding an exciting startup to help, or a fairly small firm whose owner doesn’t need to grow it into a colossus, or maybe they should start their own company instead?
And there’s the thing with this career advice. Looking at everything I’ve described above, I realize that the advice I’d give my little girls is also the advice I’d give to a little boy when he is ready to launch his career.
A lot of the flaws inherent in our legacy enterprises – those are mostly cultural issues, and the legacy we’re talking about? When most of today’s big companies were founded, we led by much different, much less enlightened ways. Many of the B-school professors training today’s executives? They’re still following a script that used to work great, but is so outdated it’s laughable. And most of the top executives running companies today? They learned all their unenlightened habits in a far less enlightened era.
the advice I’d give my little girls is also the advice I’d give to a little boy when he is ready to launch his career.
Fortunately, there are also many enterprise leaders, and professors, who don’t buy into that Industrial Age junk. Some of them subscribe to Switch and Shift, in fact, and we keep drawing more to our little corner of the Web every day. That’s the rewarding thing about belonging to a community of purpose such as ours: friends bring their friends, and the community grows organically because it stands for something that people can get behind.
The question to me, then, isn’t Will our enterprises change so that women and men will want to stay with them throughout their careers? My only real question is, Will that sea of change be in place by the time Ayla and Maryn join the job market?
I hope the answer is a resounding “YES!” How do we make sure it is? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
*Important caveat to point #2: I’m kind of always working, as my regular readers know (http://switchandshift.com/work-life-balance-versus-flow), but that’s because my work is also my hobby – it’s fun! (http://switchandshift.com/fun-at-work) So in a way I’m a hypocrite on this one. Please forgive me.
Photo Credit from Flickr