Wednesday, June 9, 2010

moving on out, moving on up?

Friday was my last day at the company I've worked at for the past eight years. I worked with wonderful people. I just got promoted. Maybe I'm crazy to leave, but an opportunity appeared that I realized I had to pursue. In a bit of a whirlwind I interviewed for and was offered a position at another company. A position at a bigger and more secure company, that gives me the opportunity to do new and very exciting research with a lot more resources at my disposal. A company located only ten minutes from my home and right next to the kids preschool. I try to volunteer at preschool regularly, but the distance from my work has made it hard.  I'm torn in two at the moment. I'm so sad to leave the people I have spent every weekday of my life with for so many years. People who have supported me in my journey from a childless individual contributor in the workplace to a multi-tasking parent and group leader.

When I emptied my desk drawers I found the photos I had displayed when I first arrived. Of the cats and of my then boyfriend and I. The picture of the boyfriend (now Geekydaddy) was taken in the corner of our living room that now houses the kids colouring table, but in the picture the corner has our bar in it, laden with Bombay Saphhire Gin, Kettle Vodka and Makers Mark. I'm wearing leather trousers and have a platinum streak in my long hair. I remembered that I had the streak dyed back to brown and had my hair cut before the interview that utimately became this wonderful job. I sorted through a succession of photos that had once been displayed in my various offices. Pictures of our wedding, of the dog, of  utrasounds, babies, toddlers and now a preschooler. Leafing through them, I realized that I grew up there.

Still, I'm excited to take a leap into something brand new. I think I have a lot more growing and learning to do, and this new gig might be just the place for it. I'm apprehensive though, about proving my worth and wondering where I will summon the energy to form new workplace relationships, and to impress and to do well in a new environment.

Making this move got me thinking about a statement I read recently: “among women earning $100,000 or more, 49 percent reached the age of 40 without having children, a number that is 15 percentage points higher than high-achieving men and possibly growing." It's from Lisa Belkin's recent article about Supreme court justice nomine Elena Kagan, and it is rolling around in my brain.  I was quite staggered and surprised when I read it. It speaks so starkly to the different realities of male and female career tracks after children. I found myself wondering about those 49%. Did they decide not to have children, or did time just pass them by? Are they happily married and childless, happily single and childless? Did they actively choose to be part of this statistical anomaly, or did it become a default, as their career ascended, as attempts to have children failed, or they were unable to find a man who wanted a highly driven woman? What about all those working women with kids, over forty and making less than the magic three figure salary? Are they being underpaid compared to their male counterparts (yes, to the tune of 79c to the dollar according to the reports) and how did this happen?

Of course forty years old is rather an arbitrary cut off, I personally know many women who started their families after forty. Maybe there are a lot of women with kids making $95,000 a year and just not quite hitting that $100,000 target. There are likely to be a lot of different circumstances and choices represented by the observation. Still, that simple statement gave me much food for thought.

The career move I'm making comes with a pay rise. Judicious switching of employers tends to lead to this, it is widely thought that is ideal to move jobs every five to ten years to remain competitive, at least in my industry. The effort it took for me, as a working mum, to make this move made me wonder if lack of career mobility is one reason why women's pay lags behind men's. It would be interesting to study how long women with kids stay in their jobs compared to men, It is harder to leave a comfortable job when you have an understanding with your boss that you leave at 4.30 every day to collect your kids. It is very hard to interview while pregnant, or while pumping milk. Its tough to leave a place where you feel supported as a parent and so completely on an equal footing with the men in the company that you don't even think about it. Most high earning women also have a high earning spouse, so relocating for that amazing opportunity is more difficult for a woman with kids than it is for most men with kids, who often have a more mobile family.

When I told my colleagues that I had news, some of them expected me to announce my third pregnancy. I laughed, because nothing was further from my mind (though in retrospect I'm a little insulted, perhaps i should cut down on the chocolate). My career is my third baby, and now that my actual babies can chew their own food, drink milk from cups and sleep through the night, it is time to nurture it a little. I'm hoping that since the new position is so close to home and to preschool that I can get two for one, climb the career ladder while spending more time with my children.

Wish me luck!