Home    Insight    Insight

Do women opting out pay a price for their pause?

 August 20, 2013

 Read time

The New York Times Magazine ran a story revisiting the idea of ‘opting out’ - a sequel of sorts to Lisa Belkin’s much-discussed 2003 article entitled The Opt-Out Revolution.

Large numbers of highly educated, successful women were giving up promising careers to care for a family, the 2003 article told us. But according to last week’s piece by journalist Judith Warne, ten years later, these women “want back in”.

Though the original piece by Belkin couches the decision to ‘opt out’ in a rhetoric of choice, for plenty of women who leave the workforce after starting families, there’s much more to the story. Many women feel they have to make a decision between career and family commitments - not least when they are passed over for the best projects or are left out of meetings because of new part-time hours; when they come home from a full day’s work to find that the burden of the household chores falls on their shoulders; when they calculate how big a chunk childcare will take out of their wages.

There's no question that simultaneously driving forward a career and looking after a family is hard work. But as plenty of women have demonstrated, the two are not incompatible - especially if they are willing and able to ask for help.

Flexible work arrangements or childcare assistance from employers are undoubtedly a relief for lots of working parents. Many employers, like Santander and M&G Investments, offer such benefits - but some don’t, and new parents shouldn’t be shy about negotiating for them when appropriate.

And negotiation’s not only relevant in the workplace. According to the results of an ESRC survey, European women in full time work are, on average, still responsible for about two-thirds of the time couples spend on housework. If the division of labour is not already equally split in the home, women can save themselves time and effort by asking their partners for more assistance.

There are a number of things to keep in mind when entering into a negotiation, whatever the setting. A few key ones are:

Knowing what you want 
A clear, straightforward demand is much better than a muddled, intangible one. Make sure you know what you’d ideally leave the negotiation with.

Deciding how much you’re willing compromise 
We won’t get exactly what we want all of the time. Decide upon a bottom line before entering into a negotiation and stick with it.

Knowing where your bargaining power comes from 
What do you have to leverage the negotiation? Why do you deserve to have your demands met? Understand what gives you bargaining power – and use it.

Planning ahead 
Consider as many of the potential outcomes as possible, and make sure you’ve got an idea of how to respond to each of them. Don’t get caught by surprise.

Stay connected by subscribing to our monthly newsletter and following us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

Join our women's careers community