When Work Doesn’t Work for Women: Saying Goodbye to Corporate America

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Today we’re reposting a blog by The Hired Pens’ very own Tracy Quinn McLennan, copyeditor extraordinaire. Her story is a familiar one for many of our Pens who have also chosen to leave the inflexible world of corporate America for a work life that works for their life.

We hope you find it inspiring. And if you happen to be a highly skilled writer who finds it inspiring enough to quit your own day job to give freelancing a go, please be in touch.

When Work Doesn’t Work for Women: Saying Goodbye to Corporate America

Headshot -- Tracy Quinn McLennanThis year marks three years of running my home-based small business. It’s been a wild ride so far — with many pros and cons, highs and lows, successes and setbacks.

Part of running your own company means you are constantly working. There isn’t much time for reflection. There’s a joke that entrepreneurs have freedom . . . so they can choose whichever 23 hours a day they wish to work. But I’ve been practicing yoga regularly this year, and I recently found myself in the final resting pose, Savasana, contemplating this milestone and what led to my saying goodbye to corporate America and hello to entrepreneurship.

My last position was actually a very good job, with fair compensation and benefits, regular hours, and a great location. It had some drawbacks, including a four-hour, round-trip commute by train every day and work that was mind-numbingly dull and repetitive. In my weekly meeting with my manager, she asked me if I was aware that I had worked from home one day a week for the last 11 weeks. (The company disapproved of employees working out of the office.)

That was a wake-up call. I knew I needed more flexibility to be available for my then-seven-year-old son, I was bored silly of the work, and I hated the commute. I could have looked for another position that was closer to home, allowed for a flex schedule, offered me more interesting assignments or any other of the many variables that could have made a new job “better.”

The position I had before my last one was even worse. When my son was between the ages of three and five, I worked an hour’s drive away, 10 to 12 hours a day, in a highly stressful managerial role. It was the best salary I’d ever received — and the worst job I’d ever had. And time wasn’t on my side. As any parent knows, children age quickly, especially when they’re very young, and I was missing out on entire days of his life. I would leave home before he was awake in the morning and return when he was already in bed for the night. I was a “weekend mom,” experiencing the life of my only child just two out of seven days a week.

I was tired. Tired of working so many hours. Tired of office politics and performance evaluations. Tired of the daily grind of an office job. Tired of missing my son’s childhood. Tired of missing family dinners. Tired of switching jobs every couple of years looking for the elusive “right fit” — the perfect coworkers, fulfilling work, a solid paycheck, and more.

Taking a Leap of Faith

With the support of my husband, I decided I’d leave my job without having another one and with no plan to look for one. I thought I’d give it six months to a year to see if I could make my business a success. (Little did I know that it takes years to be able to accurately measure if a small business is viable.) I could always return to a full-time position, I figured. In anticipation of giving my resignation, I had secured two clients — a book project with a set due date and an ongoing daily proofreading gig — that would pay my “salary” for the first three months, and I planned on looking for additional freelance work in the meantime.

Now, almost three years later, my business is thriving, and I am crafting the work/life balance I’ve been seeking in 20 years of working. Some days are great, others are not, much like life itself. But overall, I’m happier, and life is more balanced and filled with more opportunities.

During that recent meditation, I began wondering if other women were leaving their jobs, too. I knew I was not alone, as my twin sister left corporate America less than a year after I did and formed her own business for many of the same reasons. She had spent two decades in nonprofits, youth development and education but wanted to pursue a passion that had never been part of her career: her love of animals. She started her pet services business to care for and train cats and dogs.

My twin and I are not alone. In fact, the more I researched, the more I found that we were part of a new women’s movement. Who knew? I thought we were flying solo, but, in reality, we are among the growing number of women starting businesses. According to a Forbes magazine piece entitled “Entrepreneurship Is the New Women’s Movement,” “Women have been starting businesses at a higher rate than men for the last 20 years and tend to create home-based micro (less than five employees) and small businesses. Women will create over half of the 9.72 million new small business jobs expected to be created by 2018 and more and more are doing this from home offices across the country. It’s a surprising statistic, especially considering that women-owned businesses only created 16% of total U.S. jobs that existed in 2010.”

What’s Wrong with Corporate America for Women?

Research has identified dozens of reasons why women are leaving corporate America to start their own businesses. You could say they are burned out on corporate life. This burnout is a flame that builds slowly over time until women decide to jump off the corporate ladder they were climbing — and then burn the ladder itself.

And, like my sister and me, women tend to drop out of the corporate workforce as they get older. According to data from McKinsey, “Women hold 53% of entry-level jobs but only 37% of middle management positions and only 26% of senior management jobs.”

This is, in part, because women are marrying later in life and starting families. The Pew Research Center says the median age for a first marriage is 28.7 years old, higher than it’s ever been. Also, more women in the United States are waiting until they’re older to start having children. The average age of women having their first child was a record high of 26 years old in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics Report.

Many women decide to start businesses because they want more flexibility and control over their time to accommodate the changing needs of a family. Americans are living longer and more families are taking care of older parents while raising their own children. “Women who are caregivers are significantly less likely to be in the labor force, compared to women who are not caregivers,” according to the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

So, just when women are primed to assume leadership roles in the workplace, they are also having to turn their attention away from the office and more toward the needs and demands of home.

Additionally, job and work environment satisfaction is at an all-time low. According to the Forbes piece, “Many women view corporations today as being fundamentally flawed and limiting in their value structures. The Guardian Life Index, an initiative to understand America’s small business owners, cites ‘office politics’ as a driving factor for women leaving Corporate America to start businesses. With the cost of starting a business at an all-time low, women are saying ‘no thank you’ to spending years climbing and clawing their way up the corporate ladder, dealing with corporate politics, and working long days without feeling the overall fulfillment they crave.”

Women in corporate life often feel they are working for other people’s goals, undervalued by the corporate world and limited by the traditional corporate career path. According to this Kabbage article in honor of National Women’s Small Business Month, “There’s something about the traditional corporate world that does not fully recognize women’s contributions or does not create a hospitable climate for women to succeed at the highest levels — whether it’s gender discrimination, family-unfriendly policies that punish women who choose to take time off to care for children, or just an overall culture that only rewards certain personality types (who are more likely to be men).”

Last, but certainly not least, is that women are underpaid for their work. Harvard Business Review states that “women’s wages as compared to men have only increased about a half a penny a year for the last 30 years . . . women are now stuck in middle management [which concurs with the data from McKinsey]. The National Women’s Law Center cites that “American women who work full-time, year-round are paid only 78 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.”

For these reasons and more, the designation that was given by the Kauffman Foundation (which focuses on educational achievement and entrepreneurial success) back in 2011 that this is “the Decade of the Woman Entrepreneur” seems to be true.

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