I’ve always been impressed by my girlfriend Kendall.* She got married right out of law school and soon after became a mom. After her second child was born, she chose to leave her big firm job, scale back her career, and focus on her children. Her husband had a good job and they could afford for her to stay home.
But in between carpool, homework, and toddler dance classes, Kendall did contract work for another attorney. It was just a few hours a week from home, but she stayed current on the law and kept up her contacts. When the girls were a little older, she took on a few of her own cases. When her marriage ended unexpectedly, Kendall was only making a fraction of what she would have if she’d kept her law firm job. But because she’d kept working, she was able to slowly pick up more cases. Today, she’s continuing to become more and more financially independent.
(*Not her real name.)
Many new moms question whether they’ll return to work after having babies. For some, the decision is simple. They either have to – or want to - keep working. For others, their choice and ability to stay home is clear.
I was raised by a stay-at-home mother. But she raised me to work. As a child, she drilled it into my head: “Have a career, Pilar. Be independent. I don’t want you to ever be stuck in a bad marriage.”
As a divorce attorney, it’s not the career women who keep me up at night worrying. It’s the women in their 50’s who haven’t worked in a decade (or two).
The stay-at-home moms who don’t feel employable, but have to go find a job anyway.
The ones who are shocked to hear their husbands say, “I never agreed you’d stay home forever.”
The ones who didn’t keep their skills up like Kendall did.
There’s no right answer to the “should I go back to work” conundrum. It’s not for anyone else to say whether it’s best for you to lean in or lean out.
But having personally witnessed the devastating financial impact that divorce has on women, my opinion is this: If you can, it’s a wise idea to keep a foot in the door. Or at least a toe.
Because one day you might have to go back to work. Heck, one day you might want to go back to work. Having the right to choose is a lot more meaningful when you have options to choose from.
Keeping a foot in the door doesn’t mean you have to stay actively employed. It might mean keeping your license (medical, real estate, etc.) active. Or substitute teaching. Or organizing a quarterly lunch with your old colleagues so they know you’re still alive. Just do something to stay relevant.
Stay in the game, even if you’re sitting on the sidelines. It’s a lot easier to suit back up from the bench than from the stands.
Last week, the New York Times wrote about the economic burden of the shutdown on women. The article states that women have taken on a disproportionate share of day care, home schooling, and housework. But now, the reopening of the workplace has created a new problem: lack of childcare options (with most camps, schools, and childcare centers closed) may force women out of the work force and back into their homes. Even temporary time away, the author points out, can have permanent repercussions, in terms of missed promotions and other opportunities for advancement.
Picture how much more complicated this gets when it happens to a woman going through divorce.
So, if you’re in the workforce and suddenly forced home, what do you do now to keep your foot in the door (and hopefully earn an income)? There are options. Here are a few:
1. Ask your employer to let you temporarily work part-time, flex-time, or 100% remote. Many companies have financial incentive to keep their employees right now, especially if they’ve received forgivable loans through the Payroll Protection Act in exchange for them retaining employees. What that looks like might be different than what they’re used to, but technology has proven that it’s doable. Thanks to Zoom, companies around the world are realizing that working from home actually does work. There’s never been a better time to broach this subject with your employer, as even the companies that may not have ever considered remote working before Covid are taking a new look at this solution.
2. Become your own boss. Have you had a business idea in your head but been afraid to pull the trigger? It’s really hard to leave the safety net of stable work to follow a dream. Good news is there’s never been a better time to be in business online than now. If you don’t believe you can do it, check out Rachel Hollis, who “built a multi-million dollar company with a high school diploma and a Google search bar” or listen to Marie Forleo for inspiration.
3. Take an online course. If you’re forced out of the workplace, and not able to work from home, can you use this time to advance your skills? Take an online course, get an online degree, gain new marketable skills. So when it’s time to return to the workplace, you’ve got something to offer that you didn’t have before.
4. Offer to freelance/consult for your employer. If your company can’t keep you on the payroll and you can’t meet their needs (i.e. to work on site), do they still need your skills enough to hire you as a freelancer/independent contractor? Often the rates for independents can be higher than for employers, because they’re not providing you with benefits like health insurance and 401k matching. With a little negotiating, you might be able to earn as much as a part-time contractor as you were earning as a full-time employee.
5. Volunteer (and gain valuable resume experience in the process). It seems like there’s never been a time in our country when so many could use help. Offer your (marketing, teaching, financial, legal, design, project management, sales, etc.) expertise to a cause you believe in. In addition to helping those who need it, you’ll walk away with great hands-on experience, new contacts and something to add to your resume.
6. Join an industry organization that meets regularly, in person or online. There are organizations for every kind of industry (e.g. American Advertising Federation,) and general business organizations like the National Association of Women Business Owners and Women in Business. Don’t be intimidated if you’re just starting out in your field - many organizations tend to have something for every level!
7. Get out of your bubble. Attend networking happy hours (once things open up safely after Covid.) Organizations like Meet Up can help you find events near you in your area of interest. It’s a great way to expand your network and be exposed to fresh ideas.
We’d love to hear your own ideas on how to keep a foot in the door, shift your career, or make working from home work for you in the comments section!