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No, Millennial Women Aren’t Taking a ‘Career Pause’

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We've all heard the myth of the "career pause" – it's used as an excuse when bosses decide not to hire young women. To explain it in the simplest terms, it's the idea that a woman will plan to take time off from her career to raise a family, in some modern iteration of the cult of domesticity. After all, bosses (and journalists) claim, young women will just get pregnant, and go on leave. Then, they'll stay home, need a flex-schedule, choose a lesser job, or in other ways divert from what could be considered a standard career path.

We’ve all heard the myth of the “career pause” – it’s used as an excuse when bosses decide not to hire young women. To explain it in the simplest terms, it’s the idea that a woman will plan to take time off from her career to raise a family, in some modern iteration of the cult of domesticity. After all, bosses (and journalists) claim, young women will just get pregnant, and go on leave. Then, they’ll stay home, need a flex-schedule, choose a lesser job, or in other ways divert from what could be considered a standard career path.

Career Pause? Women Can Have It All

(Photo Credit: Anton Petukhov / Flickr)

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“…two generations after women entered the business world in large numbers, it can still be hard for women to work,” writes Claire Cain Miller at TheUpshot in The New York Times. “Even those with the highest career ambitions are more likely than their predecessors to plan to scale back at work at certain times or to seek out flexible jobs.”

It’s inevitable, right?

Well, not quite. What the recent New York Times piece demonstrates more than anything is that young women are more aware of the challenges they will face as they head out into the workforce. Those challenges are made worse by the current state of the economy, but also by the perception that a young woman doesn’t really need the job, because she’ll “interrupt” her career anyway.

Proponents of that “career pause” fable fail to realize that women have been fighting the same well-worn (but ever more mind-numbing) marginalization for decades. While the argument once was that women should always stay at home, in a perpetual state of “pause” – caring for the house, home and children, the focus has changed. We’ve made progress.

The fact that we’re still encouraging young women to plan for a “career pause,” though demonstrates that we still have a misdirected sense of the demands that women – young and old alike – are facing.

It’s Not That Simple 

First of all, it’s an incredible over-simplification to say that all young women get pregnant and thus should be sidelined, in favor of their male colleagues. Many women will never have children, while others aren’t in the position to think about child-bearing, so it’s a “not yet” scenario. So, the stereotypical woman-equals-pregnant is ludicrous and offensive, even as we recognize that young women are now waiting until later in life to have children.

And, even if all that wasn’t the case, those women who are starting a family are doing so without stopping to take time off or stall the career they’d just spent the majority of their adult lives cultivating. Really, who can afford to stop? But, the state of the modern workplace is such that bosses are making it more feasible to become a parent, while continuing to pursue all those workplace endeavors.

Pause No More

Working while pregnant has become incredibly popular, according to Pew Research. Far from being the grandiose “career pause,” it’s both an economic necessity and a career choice. Instead of becoming the beginning of a stalemate in a woman’s career, studies have shown that working full-time while pregnant also translates to a greater likelihood that the woman will return to work (and also return more quickly).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics brought to light another eye-opening statistic: 64 percent of women with children under 6 are working. And, according to Pew Research, women are the primary “breadwinner” in 40 percent of American households with children. Yes, it’s a challenging economic landscape out there. Perhaps it’s even true that some women would really love to take a “career pause.”

But, look at the reality, based on facts.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you been affected by the perception that you will take time off to get pregnant, even if you’ve not yet had the “career pause” urge? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Esther Lombardi
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