From Being Equal Doesn’t Mean Being the Same:
Starting a business is killer hard and frequently all-consuming. Yet it’s been attracting women at all levels, in every location and in greater numbers than at any time in history.
Far from being Plan B for women who can’t make it or a part-time stopgap for stalled careers, women most often start enterprises nowadays because in a wide range of circumstances it’s so plainly the better option.
If women can’t find the flexibility they need in a corporate setting, they figure they can do it if they set their own hours and agenda. When you’re the boss, with or without employees, you have the satisfaction, the privilege and sometimes the indulgence of making your own compromises. No one chooses for you. That freedom can be exhilarating for women – or, uhmm, “liberating.” Often, it starts with having a baby.
Is it any wonder so many professional women are jumping off corporate ladders and opting out of male-run companies to assume the reins of their time, lives, family and future?
Let’s be clear. The current American workplace is an entirely different playing field than existed mid-20th century. Better educated and skilled, shaped by a half-century of advances and freedoms, women today have their pick of unparalleled options. No matter that men still relinquish power only reluctantly. Starting with the 1940s wartime reformation, once women integrate any working ranks—in construction, sports, politics, finances, unions, symphony orchestras, the presidential cabinet and on and on—the genie never goes back into the bottle.
Ongoing challenges do not belie the dramatic inroads women have made across the business landscape. Likewise, urging women to start their own enterprises has nothing whatever to do with whether selected women can perform as leaders of global conglomerates or commanders of corner offices. Of course they can. But, same as most men, the majority of women have neither the chops nor the drive to ascend to Fortune 1000 CEOs (though we know women have a much lesser shot at it).
It’s precisely because of all the choices women fought for and secured, not despite them, that so many women now are questioning how best to expend their well-honed talents, energy, passions and abilities. Why keep struggling for pay and parity within rigid corporate precincts when the lines keep wavering, the goalposts keep moving and the battle is never won?
It might just come down to time and money. How much of each is important to you? How much of each are you willing to sacrifice? How well can you adjust to the corporate sandbox, which hands men the shovels while women get the buckets? How much frustration and lack of recognition can you swallow?
We each have only the one life, typically the one family and, usually, only a couple of decades or so to build a career, though that window is widening with longevity and advances in technology. In many respects, women have a way broader continuum for work and life choices than do men, with many more potential roles and transitions.
So what’s worth doing?
With patently difficult paths for women in the corporate arena, and having “leaned in” so long and so hard that thousands of women professionals are bent double, women are increasingly deciding to run their own shows.