Attention Women: Opting out of the workforce will significantly hinder your career potential

In late summer, the Mom Corps team commissioned our third annual workplace survey through Harris Interactive, gauging the perceptions and preferences of U.S. working adults related to workplace flexibility and work/life choices. Among the new statements we posed this year and one I particularly perceive as revealing, timely and so very useful (for women especially) in today’s workforce is this:

“Taking a significant amount of time out of the workforce (e.g., to go back to school full-time, raise children, travel, etc.) would set my career back.” Over half (55%) of the working-women surveyed agreed with this statement, indicating they felt as if “opting out” of the workforce for any reason would hinder their professional trajectory.

I’ve seen the following scenario time and again with women I’ve coached. Deep-rooted societal roles can make you feel guilty for not putting your career on hold to care for your children. It’s a natural desire to want to spend more time with our children, and so often we end up feeling guilty if it is an option (financially speaking) and we don’t choose to take advantage of the precious, fleeting time. But, when the kids are grown up and re-entry is on the horizon, the past decision to “opt out” becomes stunningly short sighted as re-entry to former career levels becomes nearly impossible. Instead of letting someone else dictate your work/life responsibilities, find a flexible solution that caters to you and your family.

Another compelling finding—almost half (44%) of working women surveyed agreed that they would consider alternative work options (e.g. temping, contracting, part-time, consulting) instead of a traditional job in order to better achieve their desired level of work/life balance.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing though, especially today. There are solutions that involve thinking creatively and flexibly about work. Aligning yourself with new opportunities helps keep your skills current and builds invaluable networking connections, key for reentry down the line. A couple viable options for preventing a resume gap, but still opting out marginally, include negotiating contract work or a part-time arrangement with your current employer before heading out on sabbatical, or seeking out similar freelance or temporary options with another employer. Working even 10 hours a week in a position relevant to your skill set and past experience will keep you and your resume current. Strategic volunteering is another option, but keep in mind that leading the fundraising campaign for a local non-profit is different than leading the local bake sale.

No matter what you choose for yourself when it comes to career and family, prepare yourself in a way that gives you options, whether that means part-time consulting or volunteering in a purposeful way. The important message here is not to simply pause your career entirely, but to keep your toe in the water professionally in some way.

Allison O’Kelly is founder/CEO of Mom Corps, a national talent acquisition and career development firm with a focus on flexibility. Learn more at or connect with her on Twitter @AllisonOKelly and @MomCorps. 

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