Getting tactical about your career as a working parent is a topic we cover on our programmes. Many of the participants we meet feel that becoming a parent has negatively impacted their career prospects, especially when related to progression. Being honest, in some organisations, it has, with crucial promotion panels missed whilst on leave or through finding it hard to build the right body of evidence for promotion whilst working reduced hours. Many simply feel that the word ‘career’ no longer applies to them.
Why is this? It is an interesting word when you reflect on it. It implies an upward trajectory, especially in the professional services firms we regularly work in. It is often linked to the word ‘ladder’ which symbolises moving upwards. Staying at a level and doing your job role is not the same as having a career. It attracts some judgement too. Being described as a career woman often implies that you have somehow focused on pursuing work over family.
I went to look at the dictionary definition. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ‘an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities to progress’. This definition doesn’t say that progress has to be at a particular rate or in a straight direction. In fact, it feels like this traditional picture of a career (arguably, one that has historically fitted the life cycle of a traditional male) no longer fits. In a world of flexible working, diverse workforces, increasing technology and potentially longer working lives is it time to change our definition?
Helen Tupper from Amazing If has coined the phrase ‘squiggly careers’ to describe the different ways our careers may develop. We may spend time in organisations, freelancing and working on a portfolio of work whilst changing working hours or taking career breaks from time to time. Joanne Cleaver in her book, ‘The Career Lattice’ looks at a career as a series of lateral moves, a diagonal framework which allows multidirectional, flexible travel which expands in different directions.
By challenging the traditional picture of what career means with the working parents on our programmes, we can help them to work out what their own version of success in their career is and to find a way that the word career continues to apply to them.