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Turn Down that Big Promotion: 4 Reasons

Why ambitious women should opt for a more flexible option

By Kathryn Sollmann

It used to be that most of my coaching clients were women at home trying to figure out how to get back into the workforce. Now I’m hearing from many more seasoned corporate women who say, “I want to get off the fast track, spend more time with my family and work in a flexible way—but I’m afraid I’ll never find less life-consuming work to match my ambition.”

Don’t Be Afraid to Turn Down A Promotion

Translation: these women still want work with big substance, but they also want big changes to the structure.

Though this hard-driving women’s empowerment era prods women to get to the “top,” it’s a pinnacle where, taking the long view, relatively few women are champing at the bit to be. When I talk to women at the cusp of a big promotion, I see that the “Lean In” mantra is the last thing on their minds (resonating instead with younger women who haven’t yet faced the challenge of two big caregiving jobs—children and aging parents).

I hear criticisms of corporate women’s leadership programs and women’s professional organizations that are long on pointers for navigating the office hierarchy and short on pragmatic help for blending work and life.

Ambitious women who are also caregivers know what they want, but they don’t know if it exists: professional, challenging work in a more flexible package. They have Type A personalities and a drive to accomplish that won’t fade if their work structure changes. And they mistakenly believe the work they thrive on is only found in the traditional, inflexible corporate job requiring a long commute and 60+ hours a week.

The fact is that there’s a middle ground for women looking to nurture family, professional stature, and long-term financial security.

Turn Down A Promotion That Doesn’t Allow A Middle Ground

That middle ground is where one of my coaching clients, Beth, would like to be. She’s in her forties, an uber professional Ivy League MBA who quickly worked her way up to a big financial services job managing hundreds of people and billions of dollars. While on a frequent business trip abroad, this mother of two young children admitted, “I’m supposed to want this as a high-achiever woman who earned a prestigious MBA, but this is not what I want as a mother”. She acknowledges that her big demanding job does not define her, but she also knows that she needs to find another model for senior-level, lucrative, resume-worthy work.

Other models are out there, and these four data points give Beth (and many women like her) confidence they can still find outlets for their ambition if they forego a big promotion or the C-Suite quest:

1. The demand for independent executive workers is high
Evidence that employers are migrating toward a flexible, on-demand labor model is in the 2017 Workforce Productivity Report. Independent contractors account for up to 60% of the workforce at half the companies surveyed. The skills always in hot demand for more senior-level consultants include marketing/communications, project management, business analysis, accounting/finance, and the full gamut of information technology expertise.

Working independently is an increasingly viable and respected career option as employers see they can choose the best talent from a wider geographic pool and save about 30% in payroll costs.

2. At-home work is not a cop-out for less motivated workers 
The online job board, FlexJobs, regularly lists remote jobs for high-achievers—chief financial officers, chief operating officers, chief people officers, chief development officers, vice presidents in many disciplines, nonprofit executive directors, and interim CEOs.

3. Compensation for flexible work is not small potatoes
LinkedIn reports
that average consulting rates are as high as $150 per hour. At that rate (many consultants command much more) annual compensation could be $150,000 for just 20 billable hours of work per week. And via LinkedIn, one of my high-level coaching clients landed a short-term $2,500 per hour assignment advising a high-profile start-up.

The most compelling fact is that most freelancers who leave a traditional full-time job earn more money within one year.

4. You don’t always have to find flexible work on your own.
A growing number of high-end boutique firms are specializing in finding women substantial flexible jobs at high-visibility non-profits as well as established and start-up companies of every size. These firms are changing the work paradigm—convincing employers that smart, talented women can get more done in fewer hours, with fewer schedule and location restrictions.

Check out The Flexwork for Women Alliance to connect with innovative recruiting firms nationwide.

Today ambitious women don’t have to choose between work and family or wonder if they can have it all. They’re finding ways to do it all in a life-friendly framework—feeding their ambition and getting home in time to make dinner for their families, too.

Kathryn Sollmann is a flexwork expert, speaker, and career coach—and the author of Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead.


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