How to progress your career while working flexibly

It might seem that you need to put in full-time hours (at the very least) in order to show you’re committed enough to your career to be promoted. But what if you want to rise through the ranks at work without sacrificing time with your family? It’s this dilemma that has resulted in an alarming lack of women in senior roles across a number of industries. 

Recent studies have shown that women earn an average of 10% less than men. A key reason for this may be that women who take time away from work to have children then need to opt for part-time jobs in order to have time to take care of their young families. Doing so can often mean taking a pay cut or a drop in seniority. The same studies show that 52% of women aged 25-49 with dependent children work part-time, compared to just 16% who don’t have young children. 

So how can you avoid missing out on a career you love while still being able to support your family? It might be difficult but it can be done - we’ve looked at practical ways in which a brilliant career and happy home life can coexist.

Enhance your expertise

Think about your skills, where are your gaps? What can be done to fill them? Do you need training, coaching, a secondment?  It is much easier to approach your manager to invest in your career if you have a plan to show them. Also bear in mind that if you can train to become an expert in a particular subject, it’s possible to progress in your career as a independent consultant or specialist rather than a manager. Without a team to look after, you’ll almost certainly have greater flexibility in terms of when and where you’ll be able to work.

Consider a mentor

Know someone professionally that you have a lot of respect for? Consider asking them to be a mentor. Mentoring is much discussed, but the number of people that have them is still surprisingly few. A mentor can be hugely valuable, they will encourage you to think about your own career and develop a vision, pulling you out of the “day to day” to think about yourself. They will also have valuable advice for many career issues you may encounter.

Build your network

Take time to build a network of colleagues and associates. This will help you to build your personal “brand”, they will bring fresh ideas and solutions to work conundrums but also can act as a support network in navigating the bumps in your career path. It can be hard to find time to fit in networking with flexible hours, but it can be as simple as having lunch with someone in a different team or department, and external networking can take place at a skills event whilst gaining CPD points, at a breakfast event before work or a social situation!

Consider flexibility that covers full time hours

We would love to say that the opportunities to work part time and progress your career are endless, but whilst we are doing our best to improve things, sadly that is not currently the case.  Many employers require a “full time” presence for senior roles, especially if managing a team or in a client-facing role. However, there are still some options for flexibility in these scenarios, for example:   

Job Sharing

Consider whether you know anyone who could share a role with you, with each of you doing 3 days per week (Mon-Weds and Weds-Fri).  This will ensure that the role is covered 5 days per week, opening up more senior opportunities. In addition, for businesses it has numerous benefits, two sets of ideas, access to a complementary but wider mix of skills, holiday cover and many more!

Four days per week

Working four days a week as a senior member of staff can actually be a great way to support your team; with your guidance for most of the week, they’ll have the opportunity to be independent for one day out of five. This can function as a useful learning experience for younger members of staff. It allows them to develop their own management skills while knowing they have your support to call on in the surrounding days. It makes great sense for the business as it helps with succession planning

Set goals

Think about what you want to achieve in the next year and over the next 5 years and break it down into achievable pieces. You can then evaluate whether you are moving in the direction you had hoped, separate to the appraisal of your current role/company. Being able to measure your achievements will help you to avoid treading water and ensure you keep on the trajectory you would like

While it can be frustrating to have to slow your ascent to the role of your dreams, it’s important to note that there’s no need to rush. It’s worth thinking of your career as a tree rather than a ladder - there’s no harm in taking a rest on some branches, or choosing to move sideways rather than directly upwards. 

Sometimes your ‘career tree’ might be full of blossoms and leaves; other times it might seem wintery and barren. But remember: there are plenty of fruitful seasons left to come, so don’t be afraid to take your time and work according to what suits your lifestyle right now.

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