Your Career Success Formula is Wrong


This is an incredibly difficult blog to write. When Ted asked me to write a follow-up blog to a comment on his blog post Career Advice to My Daughters, my first thought was, “This is great! I’ve started to write this a hundred times”. My second thought was, “Oh great. I haven’t finished this blog a hundred times”.

I believe our society’s formula for success in our careers is all wrong. Only when we, as a society, recognize this other formula, can we truly move towards creating a better chance of success for the current and next generation of workers.

There’s a radical shift in the work we perform, and how with how we perform it. A century ago, traditional jobs resembled little of the jobs we have today: outsourcing of production-oriented work, an increase in service-oriented work, technological advances, and online socialization have all been contributors to this shift.

Yet, despite these changes, we are still facing a gender gap in some pretty significant work areas, and many more are struggling with this holy grail of “work life balance.” Many of us are still struggling to achieve “success.”

The traditional formula for success looks like a married male with children, an advanced degree, growing within the organization, or put simply:

Gender + Family + Degree + Company Loyalty = Success

We are still facing a gender gap in some pretty significant work areas

I recently viewed Mashable’s Infographic on what top performing CEO’s look like. See below:



As a woman, what jumps out at me, of course, is the 98% of the top performing CEO’s that are male. As a woman, I am not surprised. As a woman, I am not discouraged.

As a woman, I see opportunity.

Because maybe this formula is all wrong. What if gender is secondary to the larger problem?

Here’s reality: There’s an increase of fathers coming to the table and discussing work-life balance; there’s an increase of same-sex households, and there’s an increase of women’s role as bread-winners that is “forcing the hand” of the gender gap. This is helping us get to the root of the problem.

If we look beyond the roadblocks of gender, family, degrees, and company loyalty, a different formula appears. I would argue that the real formula for success for today’s reality is:

Steady + Flexible = Success.

With so many two-income families, “steady” success is becoming more and more out of reach… and if we continue to focus on just the roadblocks of gender, education, family, and company loyalty, the pervasive problem is not going to get fixed. Here’s another reality check: Every household requires one person to steer the steady career course, and the other to be the sail that bends in the wind. How this blend of steady and flexible is mixed within the household varies greatly, particularly because there are so many dual income households.

The real formula for success for today’s reality is: Steady + Flexible = Success.

Our continued struggle with understanding gender gap issues and our quest for work life balance stems from one simple truth: We don’t know how to place value on workforce flexibility in the above success formula for today’s reality. We are at the beginning of a breakthrough of a better work culture for the next generation of workers. A work culture where the notion of a gender gap and work-life balance issue is a non-issue. But there is still a ways to go in this transition.

What can we, as employees, as flexible workers, as employers do to make this transition happen? Just for starters:

1. Accept a Flexible Workforce

Acceptance of the role of flexible workers in overall success is an important first-step. Whether it’s within, or outside of your workforce, contributions of flexible workforces need to be recognized.

2. Create a valued path for a flexible workforce.

Job descriptions, internal career paths, and even workforce policies must allow flexible work options so that employees can understand there is a successful career path within an organization, for both flexible and steady workers.

3. Create and/or revise policies that recognize the role (& needs) of a flexible worker.

Corporate and government policies that impact flexible workers need to be reviewed to address them from the business, flexible employee, and the flexible worker point-of-view. While we’re at it, let’s see more research done on the partners of the steady half and how the division of household and parental responsibilities is separated.

But this is just the beginning, and the challenge will be in the details. I think our workforce is ready for this transition. Do you?

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Image credit: thecutedesignstudio / 123RF Stock Photo
Infographic Credit HERE and HERE.

Lisa Duncan is changing the place we call work. As CEO of Duncan+Coleverria, she focuses on reinventing “how” and “where” we work. She co-created Flipside Workspace, a professionally-oriented business workspace for remote workers and geographically dispersed virtual teams.

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