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 (, but that’s because my work is also my hobby – it’s fun! ( So in a way I’m a hypocrite on this one. Please forgive me.



Photo Credit from Flickr

Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • Sharon Gilmour-Glover

    Hi Ted,

    Loved this post. I read it over on Triberr in Shawn Murphy’s stream.

    I thought I’d share this link to a TEDx talk by Robert H. Chapman, Chair & CEO of Barry-Wehmiller. In he talks about their shift from an industrial organization focused on building machinery and profits to a human organization focused on building great people. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Chapman or this story, it will certainly resonate –


  • Lisa Shelley

    Great advice Ted! Here’s to a transformed business world for Ayla and Maryn!

  • John Bennett

    My most clear thought is that 12 years is not that long for your daughters (beautiful names by the way) but for the evolution in economy and business, that’s quite a few “turnovers.” My advice to our daughters (now 45 and 43!) was then and remains true now: get the best education possible (not as career specific as might be thought – but for sure becoming effective learners and effective problem solvers) and consciously think about your passions and interests (at the level appropriate to current maturity level – carefully thinking of the match of passions / associated financial potential with lifestyle preferences).

    I once had a parent approach me at a social event and ask me about her child’s assignment in THIRD grade to consider careers!!! My advice was to minimize her child’s concern with the assignment – way too young. Biggest attention should be on efforts to maximize options as career decisions approach.

    • Thanks Rose! You’re the best ;)

  • William Powell

    Love your optimism Ted! Now that I have a little girl on the way, my resolve is much stronger to keep challenging organizations and leaders to Switch their thinking and Shift their actions to something meaningful and, as you put it so well, enlightened. Great post!!

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  • As usual, your always on point! Having 4 daughters, I share your sentiments. There’s work to do!

    • Marian,

      I come from a family composed almost exclusively of current or past teachers and professors. I know this one well – it’s especially disgraceful in public schools. You can’t take advantage of people. If your culture has implicit self-abuse built into it for anyone looking to get ahead (or sometimes just keep one’s job year to year), then that is the same as inflicting that abuse explicitly. How can we teach our children to be ethical citizens when we don’t lead by example?

      Regardless of the organization, I really enjoy finding those that make it a point to tell their staff, “work time is over, go home – and unplug!” They must enforce this good intention by keeping an ear out at the water cooler, though: just because you drive a behavior underground does not mean nervous or overworked employees don’t do it.

      Thanks for being a part of this community of purpose, Marian! Your contribution is important to all of us.

  • Lisa Duncan

    I am so grateful for your insights and your voice on this important subject. As a mother of two girls myself, I think about this issue constantly, and am driven in my work to develop solutions to help individuals and enterprises navigate success for this next generation.

    The C-level reality illustrated by Mashable’s Infographic on “The Anatomy of the World’s Top CEOs” ( is that the formula for “career success” is a married male with children and an advanced degree, growing within their organization. Or put simply:

    Gender+Family+Degree+Company Loyalty=Success

    Or is it?

    As a woman, and as a mother, I sadly look at this formula and see so many roadblocks. You’ve rightly identified some when thinking about the advice you would give your daughters, and offer suggestions to navigate around them. You also rightly suggest that they are not just roadblocks for girls.

    Thankfully, many, many influential individuals such as Sheryl Sandberg, also try to address these roadblocks to success.

    Yet here we are in 2013 and we really aren’t any closer to making substantial change. At least not close enough for when my children, similarly aged to yours, enter the workforce. As this infographic highlights, In 2013, “success” in an enterprise is still a married male who has worked up through the ranks. With the technology we have, the number of advanced degrees obtained by women, 98% of the top CEOs (chosen by Mashable) are still male.

    Are we doomed to accept this outcome?

    I’m not going to, and I’m happy to read that you and many of the other readers of your blog aren’t going to accept this either.

    So how do we fix it?

    I believe we are looking at the success equation all wrong. I believe the equation we must look at, the one that will have the greater impact for success for our children, is the formula that is often hidden behind the roadblocks of gender, family, degrees, and company loyalty.

    Look closer at the Mashable Infographic, and a different formula appears. The real formula for success is:

    Steady + Flexible = Success.

    This infographic illustrates it takes two for this kind of c-level success. One to steer the steady career course, and the other to be the sail that bends in the wind.

    I think the formula we often look at, the gender+family+degree+company loyalty=success is the formula for “steady” success. It’s the part of the equation that gets most of the career recognition.

    And while many try to address the roadblocks for this success, the other part of the equation, the flexible part, is largely going unaddressed.

    With more and more two-income families, the imbalance of this success formula is boiling over into chaos. I believe this is why we are failing to make any true progress in coming up with strategies for career success for the future workforce.

    The idea that one can stay steady, while another can pick up all the variables, is unrealistic with today’s economic reality. Yet, most enterprises create a career structure that assumes everyone is the “steady” part of the equation. The “steady” part of the equation is economically more valuable, more rewarded, and therefore what most people strive for, at the expense of the flexible. Yet BOTH variables are required for success.

    I believe if enterprises, policy-makers, and technology companies focused on how to increase the value and options on the flexible side of the equation, our children will be able to achieve greater career success, no matter where their passion takes them.

  • Apparently, not everyone identifies with this advice. There’s a well-written piece here (5 Things I’m Pondering Right Now with comments between the two of us that I recommend for a different perspective. It’s important to sharpen your arguments – or change your mind! – through thoughtful discussion with your detractors. I feel I’ll be better prepared to make the case for The Human Side of Business because of this experience.

  • Marian Royal Vigil

    I really enjoyed this article, Ted. These are ideas I shared with both my children when they were in their teens. And even though you’re discussing the private sector, some of these points are applicable to the public sector as well. Paid maternity is often frowned on wherever one works. And, believe it or not, many teachers and school administrators are expected to put in uncounted and unpaid extra hours at night and on weekends away from their families in order to accomplish their responsibilities and be the one considered for openings higher up the ladder. Perhaps the overarching influence here is still that old paradigm mentioned by many of your readers of the husband being the breadwinner and the wife being the homemaker. Those old concepts are still infecting many workplaces and professions – even those dominated by women!

  • Leanne

    Great article Ted.
    As a teenager at the stage of considering careers, I distinctly remember my teaching mother saying to me that I should choose teaching as it was a good career for women, as “when you get married and have kids you can always go back into it”. I also remember the feeling of resentment that the assumption was made that being female, that was all my life would be – wife and mother. I did go into teaching (because I loved it), worked up to 2 weeks before the birth of my son and returned to fulltime work 6 weeks after since there was no paid maternity leave in Australia at the time. Things have changed a little but there is still a long way to go in both the public and private sectors.
    Now as a small business owner I enthusiastically encourage support women to explore the opportunities available to promote their careers, as well as a healthy balance between work and life. This helps with their self esteem, their self worth as a valuable individual as well as developing great relationships with their partners and children.
    Encourage your daughters to see themselves as important individuals who can do anything they want in this world, but not at the expense of their health or family.

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