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Why so many women want to change careers

Right now, two-thirds of the female workforce is wondering whether they should not just leave their jobs but change industries entirely.

Why so many women want to change careers
[Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images]

Seventy-three percent of women are interested in changing careers according to InHerSight’s recent study of 1,500 working women. That means right now, two-thirds of the female workforce is wondering whether they should not just leave their jobs but change industries entirely.

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The reasons women want to leave their jobs illustrate the current state of our workforce. The top three are the need for more pay, the desire to find a career with a mission they believe in, and burnout.

If we look at salary alone, InHerSight found that only 11% of women are very satisfied with their pay, 83% believe companies aren’t doing enough to close the gender pay gap, and 49% say they’ve found out that a subordinate male coworker makes more money than they do.

No wonder women are curious about whether the grass is greener along some other unexplored career path. Stats like these make it seem like we’ve simply resigned ourselves to having thousands of unhappy women moping around our workplaces.

While that imagery is good cartoon fodder, no employee should feel that way—let alone half our workforce. There are a few things employers can do right now to help women find careers that make them happy, both for those already on your team and the women you’re hoping to bring on board.

Be transparent about pay

It’s worth noting that companies enforcing pay transparency policies, which get us closer to equal pay because everyone knows what everyone else is making, are few and far between. Opening up the discussion about pay not only helps to close the gender pay gap, but it also builds trust among employees and increases productivity, motivation, and employee performance.

Offer balance

The need for flexibility has never been more obvious. Despite our continually diversifying workforce, women still bear most of the burden at home, which means our work lives suffer because we’re juggling too many responsibilities at once.

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Flexible work hours, the ability to work from home when needed, and company cultures that support working mothers are key to helping women achieve some sort of balance and lead fulfilling careers. “Fulfilling” is a keyword there because it leads us into the next area where employers have a great opportunity to attract top talent: women’s desire for mission-driven careers at organizations with values they believe in.

Live your values

Values aren’t necessarily mission statements, though those help to provide a framework for how a company should behave. They’re the proactive steps a company takes to follow through with the promises it made to employees when they were hired. If you say you’re family-focused or committed to promoting women at the start, then women want to see that reflected in your policies and practices throughout their tenure.

This is why it’s important to provide benefits and support and show rather than tell women how valuable they are to the organization. One example is Ultimate Software, which, not surprisingly, topped InHerSight’s list of the 20 Best Companies for Working Moms. Ultimate Software offers 10 weeks of paid maternity and adoptive leave and four weeks paid paternity leave; infertility treatment in its healthcare plan; unlimited PTO; and $300 per child annually to help parents cover costs of their children’s activities. Plus, almost half of the company’s frontline managers are women. Employees can clearly see what Ultimate Software’s values are, and women who want family growth support and opportunities for advancement will be drawn to them because of that.

Rethink the way you hire

If you’re serious about advancing and promoting women, then there’s an easy check to make sure you’re really opening yourself up to diverse talent. Ask yourself: Do you make assumptions about someone’s qualifications based on where they went to school or who referred them to you? What about because of the notability of a company where they recently worked?

Those factors can sometimes be indicators of talent, but often, flagging applicants because of these résumé builders shuts underrepresented groups out of careers because many potential hires haven’t had the same educational or networking opportunities as their competitors.

Women, people of color, people with disabilities, people with criminal records, and people who’ve taken extended career gaps might not have the right degree or even be in the right industry, but they do have skills that, with a little training, would make a good hire great.

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To level the playing field, wait until all candidates have been interviewed before mentally or verbally identifying a lead candidate. Let the interview process itself dictate who the standout is—the result might surprise you. The truth is, one of the most impactful ways a company can both diversify our workforce and give women a chance at happiness is by hiring the person who is “unqualified” (I use that word lightly) on paper, yet is in every other way qualified.

To employers who are wary of change and of transparency, your fears are normal and valid. But what’s waiting on the other side is pretty spectacular. Every time I’ve seen a woman successfully change careers, it’s been because she took the time to figure out exactly what her priorities were and pursued them wholeheartedly—she either took classes at night, shadowed people in the position she wanted, or started a side-hustle that grew into something more.

In other words, I’ve never met a woman changing careers who didn’t care about where she was going next. Imagine if she chose your organization.


Beth Castle is the managing editor at InHerSight.

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