A couple of weeks ago, I met a friend in Hyde Park, and knowing that I was working in a male dominated environment and was interested in gender issues at work, she asked me what I thought about her cousin’s choice of career. Apparently her cousin wanted to become an anesthesiologist, but her mother had discouraged her claiming that it was not a female-friendly career. She asked me what I thought about it and it got me thinking…. what is a female-friendly career? What does that mean?
When people talk about female-friendly jobs, they often refer to the following job characteristics:
- lots of other women
- flexible hours, opportunity to work part-time
- good maternity policies, help with childcare
- collaborative, non-competitive environment
According to this view, investment banker or surgeon is probably an awful choice for women, right? I’d like to point out an alternative view, and I think it is particularly important for very young women making choices on undergraduate degrees and entry-level jobs.
First of all, I take offense at the automatic assumption that female employee equals pregnant employee or mother. If you start a career aged 22 or 23, it might be 10 years till you have children, by which time you have likely either made it to partner or boss, or might have changed jobs five times. When I was working at McKinsey, I remember I got really annoyed by the “women’s events” that were held, as all the male partners talked about was how they were going to set up private childcare for us and how they would ensure that consultants on maternity leave would not be disadvantaged in their performance appraisals and how they were going to look into how we could work part-time. And I thought, wait a minute, I’m 25, I’m ambitious, how do you know I want to work part-time just because I am a woman? Why don’t we talk about how I can become partner? I felt rather than helping women get to the top, a lot of the “female-friendly” policies ensure men stay on the job, while women are lured into staying away from work as long as possible and not threatening their male colleagues on their march to partnerhood. It is no coincidence that countries like Germany with very “female-friendly” maternity policies have a much lower share of women in power than cutthroat capitalist countries like the US, where women go back to work shortly after childbirth. Don’t get me wrong, I think flexible work and taking maternity leave for as long as possible are fantastic, but they are child friendly and family friendly, rather than helping women get to the top in business and politics, and it’s important to be aware of that.
So let’s assume you are in your early twenties and have 5-10 years ahead of you before having a child, what should one consider a female-friendly career? I would argue it is one that is “career-friendly”, and this should be no different for men. What you want in your twenties, especially as a woman, is to advance as fast as possible, learn as much as possible, and make as much money as possible. It is a likely that a demanding, competitive, well-paid job is going to get you much farther. The skills you acquire and the money you make will help you much more later on in your thirties than any women’s workshops or networking events could offer you.
In my opinion, trading is a fantastic career for young ambitious women, despite the fact that very few women do it, you cannot do it part-time and it involves an intense work environment. If you do well, you can accumulate several hundreds of thousands of dollars until you have your first child, or until you decide you want to do something different and set up your own business or write a novel. A safe job like being a teacher or a secretary doesn’t offer any such flexibility and freedom.
Here’s the list of questions I suggest young women ask themselves when deciding on a career path:
- how meritocratic is the firm? how fast can I advance?
- how much responsibility will I get early on?
- what skills will I acquire that will serve me long term, either for switching jobs or setting up my own business?
- what exit option does this give me 2, 5 and 10 years down the road?
- how much money will I have made until I am 30 and 35?
- what network will I build up that might be useful if I ever want to set up my own business?
Always remember, what we want is freedom and independence, do not get tricked into either a job that sucks out your lifeblood while giving you nothing lasting in return (Alexander the Great is supposed to have uttered the last words “I conquered the world but am leaving empty handed”, and you should think of these words when you take on a job – what counts is what you can take from the job once you, leave it) or a job that is comfortable and “female-friendly” but offers such little returns in terms of money, skills and network that it will require you to work as an employee for the rest of your life.
Instead, go for jobs where you learn a lot, make a lot of money, meet a lot of people and that way, when you get to a stage where you are faced with a very different situation than your male colleagues find themselves in, and this usually happens in your thirties, you have the financial freedom and the personal confidence and experience to do your own thing and taylor your own career.
I know this is controversial, so I would be really curious to hear what you guys think? What’s a female-friendly job to you?