Study: More Women Opting Out of Corporate Rat Race

November 10th, 2011 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
A survey done for More magazine has found that women in management positions are opting out of the corporate rat race in favor of more free time and less stress.  It seems that once women became acquainted with the demands of advancement in corporate management, what was once excitement about independence and power has turned to disillusionment.  Read about it here (USA Today, 11/1/11).

The magazine surveyed 500 women aged 35 – 60, with at least one college degree, were employed in a professional or management position and earned at least $60,000 if single and $75,000 if married.

43% of the women surveyed say they are less ambitious now than they were a decade ago. And only a quarter of the 500 women ages 35 to 60 say they’re working toward their next promotion.

And forget about the corner office: 3 out of 4 women in the survey — 73% — say they would not apply for their boss’ job. Almost 2 of 5 — 38% — report they don’t want to put up with the stress, office politics and responsibility that often go hand in hand with such positions…

Two of 3 of women reported they would prefer to have more free time than a bigger paycheck, and 2 of 5 said they would be willing to accept less money for more flexibility.

So what’s been known for a long time to be true – that women, far more than men, tend to choose free time and flexibility over money and advancement – continues to be true.  Moreover, it holds not only for women generally but as well for women who are both well-educated and fully inculcated with the “work first” ethos taught by feminists for decades.  That is, the appeal of family takes precedence even for those women we might have thought would be the most resistant to it.

Interesting too is the fact that the women studied aren’t opting out of corporate life because they have children and want to stay home with them.  On the contrary, it’s the demands of corporate ladder-climbing that turn them off.

 Still, the trend isn’t just about women trying to manage children and professional demands. The survey found that only 15% say that household or child care responsibilities have held them back in their careers. Interestingly, while 62% of women with children say they would take more free time over more money, a larger number of single women — 68% — say they would.

The USA Today article illustrates the survey findings with the words of a former corporate middle manager named Tiffany Willis.  She doesn’t beat around the bush about her take on corporate advancement.

She walked away from the pressures, paycheck and prestige of jobs she called “meaningful and important” earlier this year and refuses to return, no matter how many offers come her way.

“I will never go back to the corporate world,” she says. “I want to own my life…”

“It’s not worth it. I had what I called my ‘heart-attack jobs,’ and I strongly believe they took years off my life,” Willis says. “I have been referred by people for other (management) positions, and I tell them no amount of money is worth it. I don’t care if they offered me a million dollars.”

Although the survey is new, its findings aren’t.  Indeed back in July I wrote this piece referring to a New York Times panel on men, women and work.  One female corporate recruiter wrote this:

 Our research at McKinsey [and Company] highlights the difficulty women have in identifying with success, an attitude that appears to hamper their professional development. The absence of female role models is compounded by a heightened perception of the difficulty of achieving success in today’s business environment. “Opting out” — a voluntary decision to discontinue one’s career — is both the result of the barriers identified and an additional cause of the shortfall of women among corporate executives.

Time and again, survey after survey finds that women in a position to do so tend to opt out of paid work.  Usually that’s to care for children, but the More survey shows that it’s just as likely to get out of corporate life.  Various studies have shown the same thing about female attorneys, MBA graduates and those in careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

My guess is that women further down on the educational and economic totem poll are just as likely to opt out when it’s feasible for them to do so.

What this suggests is that women are proving to be fairly resistant to much of the social engineering that’s been going on for the past 40 years or so.  Despite an astonishing array of cultural messages saying that motherhood is a snare and a delusion, and that a woman’s true place is in the corporate boardroom, women are saying ‘no.’  They’ve dipped their toe in the water and found it too cold for their liking.

If that trend continues – and it shows more signs of increasing than diminishing – it has the potential to profoundly affect much in American life.  For example, for many years now we’ve been putting an enormous amount of resources into the education of women and girls.  Currently about 58% of our higher education is directed at women, one assumption being that they’ll behave like similarly educated men, i.e. become the captains of industry, the creative geniuses of science, engineering, medicine, technology, etc.  But those who opt out to care for children or simply because they “have difficulty identifying with success,” may earn a good enough living and have nice balanced lives, but they’re unlikely to make the type of contributions made by those with their noses pressed firmly against the grindstone.  Part timers don’t win Nobel prizes.

And if women don’t do equal amounts of paid work as men, the chance of fathers becoming the equals of mothers in family courts lessens.  There’s always been a trade-off between mothers and childcare, and fathers and paid work.  The less mothers do of the former, the less fathers can do of the latter.  The more Mom stays home with the kids, the more Dad has to stay at work.

Even if mothers and fathers divided up the paid work and childcare equally, experience teaches us that dads would still get the short end of the stick in divorce court.  So in order for men to gain equality in custody matters, they’re going to have to do more childcare better than women.  Needless to say, with women opting out of paid work, that’s not likely.

Now, we may eventually move toward a situation in which men and women negotiate work and family obligations on a more or less equal footing, and are perceived by judges to be doing so.  In that case, we may see growing cultural perceptions of equality in individual relationships, irrespective of the “big picture.”  If so, a trend toward greater equality in parenting may come into being.  Certainly, recent changes to family law statutes requiring judges to look at specific parenting factors hold the potential for changing judicial behavior in the direction of greater equality.

Still, unwillingness by women to pull their share of the earning load, coupled with high rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing, bode ill for our chances of keeping fathers in the lives of the children who so desperately need them.

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