Women are leaving the workforce in big numbers and are becoming independent workers. You hear more and more about women starting their own businesses after growing tired of Corporate America, allowing them their own schedules, freedom, increased quality time with family and friends, and an overall amelioration in their well-being. Of course, making the leap isn’t all easy and does come with its challenges. But, it seems, a lot of the time, the benefits outweigh the setbacks.
Anne Loehr addresses this trend in this Kenversation Q&A and tells us of her findings on the topic.
Who is Anne Loehr?
After graduating from Cornell University, Anne Loehr managed and eventually owned international, eco-friendly hotels and safari companies for over 13 years. Frustrated that she couldn’t find top-quality team development programs for her 500 Kenyan employees, Anne honed these skills herself by creating her own dynamic leadership and management development programs.
Since selling her hospitality businesses and becoming a certified executive coach, facilitator and management consultant, she has been working with diverse organizations such as Facebook, US Air Force, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, American Red Cross, Booz Allen Hamilton, John Hancock, Coca-Cola and MD Anderson Cancer Center to consistently help organizational teams improve their communications and deepen their working relationships. The impact? Creative collaboration, improved employee retention and increased sales.
Named the “Generational Guru” by The Washington Post, Anne’s work has been featured in Newsweek International, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Huffington Post, National Geographic Traveler, Washingtonian and CNN Money. A member of the prestigious National Speakers Association, Anne speaks regularly at national conferences and on the radio. She is also a faculty member of the American Management Association, teaching leadership courses around the country.
Anne co-founded Safaris for the Soul, international leadership retreats that help senior managers find their organizational values and purpose. Her first book, A Manager’s Guide to Coaching: Simple and Effective Ways to Get the Best Out of Your Employees was published by the American Management Association on 2008. Her 2nd book, Managing the Unmanageable: How to Motivate Even the Most Unruly Employee, was published by Career Press in 2011.
Kendra: One of the topics you address in your work is the state of independent workers and the fact that women are leaving the workforce in big numbers. When did this trend start becoming a significant movement?
Anne: During the last recession, organizations hired independent workers in order to keep costs down. Then, better technology came on the scene making offsite working easier than ever. That coupled with the fear of another recession just continued the trend. There is definitely an appeal for the younger generations to have the freedom and flexibility of independent work. You could say that they are carrying the torch now.
As far as women leaving the workforce, I think they are realizing that they can achieve more by consulting or creating start-ups. Despite being equally (or more) educated and experienced as their male peers, statistics show that only 19% of C suite executives are women. Only 4% are CEOs! That’s not very inspiring.
Kendra: In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg talks about wanting more women to “sit at the table”, to be active participants in the decisions made and directions of companies, teams, and even home life, rather than taking the passive back seat and watching it all happen. Do you think that’s something women have been doing for some time or it’s still a valid concern?
Anne: Yes, I think this is something that has been happening for a while but is seeing slow results. More and more women are leaning in and more options are opening up for them, but these changes are happening slowly. Women are still not represented at the top. The policies are a big problem; maybe the problem is that the policies aren’t leaning in rather than the women?
Kendra: What are some of the experiences of women in the workforce? More specifically, what are some characteristics of these women, as well as their mindsets and even emotional health?
Anne: An info-graphic we made on women in the workforce shows that 77% of women felt impeded in career advancement because of exclusion from social networks at work. I suppose that is one of the more frustrating parts of their experience in the workforce.
There is a very interesting article from Stanford on transgender experiences in the workplace. One participant, Thomas, replaced Susan (himself), at work. Someone from an associated company called Thomas’ boss to say that he was glad Susan was replaced since she was incompetent and Thomas was not. He did not know they were the same person.
Extensive interviews reported that overall, participants couldn’t believe how much more authority they were given at work after transitioning to male. Even on topics they were not experts on, they were listened to more than actual experts in the same conversation who were female. One participant said as a male, he suddenly had more “great ideas.” They also felt fast-tracked to promotions.
I guess this all is to say there are gender differences at work and also a gender hierarchy. It is a very real thing.
As far as what women in the workplace are like,The Fiscal Times had a piece that talked about men and women’s characteristics from a contemporary perspective. They reported that women in the workplace ask for more challenges, work longer hours, are team players, can see situations more holistically and are more persuasive than their male counterparts.
Kendra: How do the women differ when they are single versus when they have children and a family? Or are there any differences?
One way that women differ in the workforce when they are single is that they earn more money. In fact, a recent article in TIME reported that for the first time, women in many cities are earning more (on average 8%) than their male counterparts. But the women who are earning more are all single, childless and in their 30’s.
The study states these women earn more largely because of education– for every two guys who graduate college, three women do. And women have better adapted to our new knowledge-based economy. The problem is, their economic advantage evaporates as they age and have families.
Women with families absolutely have a different working experience than those without. Joan Williams, who is the director of the Center of WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law, says of all the triggers of stereotyping in today’s workplace, motherhood triggers the strongest bias. Researchers have given subjects identical resumes, aside for one single detail. One resume stated involvement in the PTA, indicating motherhood. The mothers were 79% less likely to be hired and 100% less likely to be promoted. Harder still, they are held to stricter punctuality standards and higher performance standards.
I guess we can conclude that women in the workforce who have families face huge barriers for success and are expected to work even harder for it. Add that to the high cost of childcare and the lack of tax credits and it becomes really clear why a woman might want to leave the workforce and think more creatively about her career.
Kendra: What types of comparisons are drawn between their male counterparts? This may seem obvious but sometimes we tend to coast through situations and become content with the status quo.
Anne: People love to compare men and women in the workforce. Some articles can really make you cringe. Everyone is an individual and behaviors definitely blur between gender lines, but having a broad picture of differing behaviors between men and women can actually be beneficial for organizations in certain ways. You can never see these gendered characteristics as absolutes but with the right perspective it can help with communication, with management, and it can strengthen the team.
An article in The Fiscal Times says that men are more linear in their thought processes and more narrow in their focus, so are able to break down problems into their component parts to solve them, while women more clearly see a problem holistically and can see the big picture even without all the details. This is complementary behavior!
Men are seen as adopting new technologies earlier and relying on them more than women. Not surprisingly, men more often ask for what they want and have negotiation strengths, while women are more persuasive. Men display more confidence than women and will “wing it” more often. Even when women are prepared, they feel unprepared!
Of course these behaviors aren’t what dictates the success of either gender. There is also the fact that people tend to be mentored by others of the same sex—meaning that if men still largely make up the executive leadership, other men will have more access to high ranking mentors.
Kendra: What have been the experiences of women, who leave the workforce, leave their jobs at large institutions and end up having a positive experience?
From my own experience, I am much more available for my family and can set my own schedule which is incredibly positive. That’s not to say there aren’t challenging times running my own business! However, it’s incredibly rewarding to make my own rules.
Kendra: And then what about the women who experience the opposite?
Actually, this kind of plays into the characteristics we were talking about earlier. Leaving the workforce and starting their own thing can be tough when women have less high-ranking mentors and lower confidence levels. They also tend to undervalue their skills. Additionally, women are generally underfunded (average of $8k) when compared to men (average $30k). The fact is, women have a 5.3% rate of discontinuing their business vs. 3.6% for men. That is daunting but I think knowing the reasons why this may be happening—undervaluing oneself, lower funding—can help women make the adjustments they need in order to succeed.
Kendra: How can women make the leap into taking the route of becoming independent workers, without the worry that they are making a mistake and/or won’t be able to sustain themselves?
Are there any decisions that don’t come with the worry of making a mistake? What if the mistake is not making a change? Yes, there is a ton of risk, but staying in a position that doesn’t offer the room to achieve what you are capable of or doesn’t give you the freedom to create your preferred lifestyle sounds like a mistake as well. If you really take a look at corporations, especially in regard to how women function within them, you may see that they aren’t the safe bet they seem to be. It is really tricky when it comes to money and health insurance, especially in this country, but we can’t let that prevent us from experimenting with our capabilities.
The value of mentorship is huge. Having others coach you on making small steps can make things feel more possible. Starting out slowly and then making the change when you’re sure you can sustain yourself is a good strategy. This means that there may be a period of time where a person needs to be working double time creating their new independent career while maintaining their current one. Considering a partnership is worthwhile—someone who has skills you may lack, or a different set of connections. Having a support system in place if you have a family is absolutely key. Get other people on board.
If you don’t feel you have the confidence to pull it off, pretend you do. Act like someone with confidence. Take a hard look at the energy that you put into your current job and imagine what that energy could do for an independent venture. The more we make things happen for ourselves, the more we are making things happen for other women.
Kendra: What will the short term and long term future look like for women in the workplace versus women who have left the workplace to strike out on their own, in the form of self-employment?
Recent research shows that the number of women-owned firms pulling in $10 million or more in annual sales has jumped by 56.6% over 10 years. That number isn’t decreasing; it’s growing. And as women’s networks grow and funding for women also grows. it will become easier for women to get in the game of self-employment and entrepreneurship. The women who see success will provide a larger and larger pool of mentors and even investors for the next generation of women. We all know that Corporate America is predominantly run by men. If women continue to vote with their feet and become the competition, not much will change for Corporate America, will it? Men will still run it.
Kendra: What are some of the things you advise women to do when considering their situations and whether or not to choose one route or the other?
Anne: Lots and lots of research. Get as much information as you can get before making a decision. What’s the trend? Who’s been successful at what you want to do? How did they do it? How can you meet them and learn from them? Grow your network by getting outside your comfort zone before making your next move.
A huge thank you to Anne for her time and insight! If you would like to read more about Anne’s work, please visit her website at www.anneloehr.com.