August 15, 2018

Career Women at Home: Why women are axing the 9-to-5.


The first years of their 20s were especially intense for Tiffany and Rachel.

Tiffany, owner of a boutique fitness studio and a promotional modeling and staffing company, spent her early 20s working unpredictable hours trying to build her first business—for months, she’d work 12 hours a day, then it’d slow down, and she’d have weeks where there was little to do.

Having only worked short spells in the corporate world, Tiffany recognized quickly that she wanted to work for herself.

“I had more work ethic than my superiors, but it would’ve taken me years and years to see the reward for my hard work. Working for myself is just who I am,” she says.

But that doesn’t mean it came easy.

Tiffany’s personal and professional life suffered when her boyfriend (now ex) demanded she take a traditional job, devaluing the work she did, despite the money it yielded, because she did it from their couch.

Rachel, who now enjoys a remote career with a pharmacy based out of Indianapolis, traveled Monday through Friday for five months straight knowing she was gravely underpaid to prove her worth and earn the promotion she hoped for. Before the pharmaceutical company, Rachel had finished her degree in nutrition and worked as a personal trainer, another job that afforded her the flexibility to make her own hours and take time off as needed.

“I want to be a mom. I’ve always wanted that. For me, my career is not my identity,” she says. She gained her independence through hard work, working bar shifts to fill in financial gaps until her career allowed her to ease up. “I cannot imagine working a 9-to-5. My closest friends do not live near me. I travel often to see them. I can travel now without taking days off as long as I have my phone and computer. With a 9-to-5, it’d be impossible.”

Tiffany’s and Rachel’s stories are important to me.

I am a woman, and I want to work for myself. But more than that, I recognize the shift away from the traditional 9-to-5 and its great implications for women.

Women are most affected by the rigid schedule of the traditional workplace, and that is why, more and more, women are choosing nontraditional and entrepreneurial career paths in an age when physical presence is increasingly unnecessary, and flexibility is a deciding factor.

Increased opportunities for remote positions and entrepreneurial ventures via our smart phones and digital workspaces are closing the gender gap in business, and this is good news for us all.

It’s 2018, but women are still largely the ones caring for children. We are still more likely than men to quit our jobs after childbirth, and understandably so, since American women earn 80 cents to every dollar men make (much less if we are African-American or Latina), and rising childcare costs cancel out a large chunk of our would-be salaries.

We still hold fewer than a quarter of senior executive titles.

And as evidenced by the #metoo movement, the workplace remains a hostile environment for many of us.

The recent uncovering of BBC’s unequal pay structure revealed that some eminent women were getting paid around 50 percent less than their male colleagues doing the exact same work.

Between caring for our children and avoiding repulsive inequality and harassment in the workplace, women benefit immensely from more flexibility in their careers and the opportunity to manage themselves.

It’s no wonder so many women are walking away from the corporate world.

Tiffany explained her own frustration with the traditional workplace.

“A 9-to-5 is not for me. I’m not interested in building CEO John Smith’s dream; I’m interested in building my own. I found that I wasn’t nearly as productive working an office job. I never saw the results of my work. It just benefited an owner who didn’t bother to know the names of his employees.”

On the other hand, Rachel believes that a lot of people yearn to leave their traditional jobs while not understanding the work it takes to make it outside of the norm.

“Good things come to those who wait and work,” she says. But some of us undoubtedly feel that we have been waiting and working, and working some more, and we just don’t know how to break out of the security of a physical office and predictable wages.

We see others fleeing their cubicles, and we wonder, but how? Where do we start?

More than 8 in 10 Etsy sellers are women. Women dominate the direct sales industry. With options like Etsy, Scentsy, Thirty-One, Advocare, and others, women don’t feel the pressure to choose between their career and family. And they’re in charge of how much money they make.

Remote jobs are skyrocketing as companies realize the quality of candidates they can get without the overhead. Remote employers not only have more women employees, but have more women in CEO or founder roles. The closing gender gap is a natural result. Women no longer have to trade off their family and personal lives for their careers.

I am a woman, and I want to work for myself.

I give 45 to 50 hours a week to my job. Each day, I work, come home, walk my dogs, make dinner, attempt to clean the mess that making dinner caused, do a load of laundry, and try to get in a quick workout before preparing my lunch, showering, and getting to bed by nine so that I can do it all over again.

Most days, I choose between dinner and a workout. Most days, I am not awake to fold the laundry I washed. Most days, I crawl into bed closer to 11. I do not have time to read or write or watch an episode of “Game of Thrones.”

I do not have time for my partner. I do not have time for my blog. I do not have time for the things I love.

All those things that don’t get done during the week pile up and consume my weekends. I make up for a lost workout. I fold three or four baskets of clean but wrinkly laundry. I do the dishes. I vacuum the dog hair from my carpet. I take the dogs to the park, hoping that the energy they expend will keep them from taking out their boredom on my shoes. And if I’m lucky, I read a chapter of a book, I write a blog post, and I catch a few minutes of Jon Snow on my big screen.

I’m not complaining, but I kind of am.

A few weeks like that, even months, and I’d be okay with it—we all have to grind to get ahead right?

But after years of it, I have begun to ask…for what?

The week leaves me so exhausted and so behind that I don’t get to do anything on my two days of supposed relaxation and enjoyment. I give five days, and I attempt to recuperate, to catch up, on the other two.

Worse, I don’t make enough money or have enough time to go on vacations or fly to visit family or to take impromptu road trips to cities I’ve never seen or buy a pair of shoes to replace the flats my dog ate.

And let’s address the big elephant in the room—I feel like this and I don’t even have children yet.

Holy hell, what you working-mothers must be going through!

I haven’t been completely honest thus far. Because it’s all so empty and interminable and I wonder if I’ll ever have any sense of freedom or ever devote time to my own aspirations, I have picked up two other jobs. I teach writing two evenings a week, and I do some consulting on weekends. The extra work is an attempt to move toward my own goals, to eventually break out of the 9-to-5 cycle.

One day, I tell myself, this will all pay off and because of my hustle, I will have my own business, I’ll choose my own hours, and I’ll be able to enjoy the money I make.

Sound familiar? Maybe it does, or maybe it’s a bit off.

I asked more than a dozen career women at home why they axed the 9-to-5. Here’s what they said:

1. Freedom.

Over and over, women stated freedom as the number one reason they left the traditional workplace. Many expressed an interest in traveling and visiting family and friends, but many also mentioned their own passions and ambitions and the need for time to devote to the things they want to do rather than the things they must do.

2. Children/family.

Family responsibilities were a close second. More than half the women I spoke with were mothers, and most were married or in serious relationships.

They felt that the traditional workplace took away time from their children and family, and not just from soccer games or ballet recitals, but from doctor appointments and dinners at home. After all, the traditional workplace was designed for the man of the household who wasn’t expected to juggle family life in the same ways as women are.

3. Control.

This one was a great surprise. I heard again and again that women wanted more control over their lives, over their time and money. Historically, women haven’t been in control—their life might have been mapped out by their husband or their obligations to their family or even the limitations of what women could accomplish in the workplace.

Because women often left their jobs after marriage or childbirth, they were seen as temporary workers and so the positions they qualified for and the salaries they received were quite limited. Unfortunately, the remnants of this antiquated system are still alive and well in corporate America.

4. Opportunity to make more money.

Another great surprise. Career women at home often referenced the fear they had in the beginning—either of starting their own business or quitting the “secure” job for something riskier they could do from home—as a worry that passed quickly.

I’m not saying everyone gets rich at home. I’m saying these women made intelligent decisions about the careers they pursued and how those careers fit their lifestyle, and they kicked ass until they made enough money.

Several started like me, doing their own thing in their free time until they had a decent customer base. A few went down to part time while they pushed their jewelry, consulting, tutoring, or childcare businesses. And others just started applying for promotions and new positions that were remote. Now, they believe they can make even more money than they could in their “safe” 9-to-5s.

5. Felt unfulfilled in their past jobs.

I wish I were surprised at this answer, but unfortunately, it’s something I’m all too familiar with.

The women I spoke with felt underpaid, overqualified, and bored in their past jobs. A majority felt that they were not really appreciated in their work. They had eventually burnt out and stopped working hard because they were generally not invested in the work. Sometimes, of course, this resulted from poor management and a disagreeable boss. But more often, women felt unfulfilled because they weren’t doing work they cared about, work that got them out of bed in the morning.

When I began my current position, my boss explained his disdain for what he deemed the millennial cop-out: work-life balance. While the terminology itself is a bit overused, I don’t understand the resistance to the concept itself. What it comes down to, I think, is that nobody wants to work just to live, and by doing so, live just to work. This doesn’t seem to me to be a generational idea. It doesn’t seem to be limited to women or the middle-class or the lazy and entitled. It seems, very simply, to be common sense.

The 9-to-5 is dead.

Depending on where we live and the type of work we do, we may be more or less willing to believe it. But in general, there is no denying a stark change in workplace culture over the last generation.

While a desire for balance is not singular to us, a drive to change the workplace into more flexible, woman-friendly workspaces—well that’s all of us. And it’s something we should be excited about, a welcome change.

If the nature of our work has changed (we are connected to our emails 24/7; we have office meetings on Skype; we advertise and network on social media), why shouldn’t our demands for the workplace change as well? Why, for instance, sit in a cubicle for 10 hours when the work can be done in four hours and the follow ups completed via email from home?

You won’t convince me that someone needs to spend 50 hours a week sitting at a desk to do the same work (and make the same profit) that they could do from home, from the local coffee shop, or from their son’s baseball game.

The link between remote employment and female leadership is great news for all women. Whether you crave the flexibility of working from home or you need the physical office setting a few days a week to feel productive is hardly relevant. And with more women running their own businesses, we can be sure that flexibility and women in executive roles will continue to be the norm. The more options we have, the more women can excel, the better for us all.

Tiffany believes her risks paid off.

“In my studio, every day I get to see people grow in mind, body, and soul. Sometimes I teach one class and go home. Sometimes I train clients for 13 hours straight. But I like being in charge of my own destiny, building my own dreams, not someone else’s.”

Rachel is looking forward to starting a big family with her husband, who also works from home.

“The advantages far outweigh any disadvantages.” She plans to keep working from home while her family grows, but says that she eventually wants to devote all her time to her children.

Both acknowledge that a traditional 9-to-5 just wouldn’t fit their needs or their lifestyle. They are happy to be making the most money they’ve ever made and enjoying a sense of freedom in flexible careers. Tiffany and Rachel are part of the growing population of women who are opting for a workspace over a workplace.

Increasingly, women are catapulting their professional lives and closing gender gaps by refusing to choose between home and office, family and career. We have reason enough to take our future into our own hands, even if it’s a bit scary at first.


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Mercedez Thompson

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