Careers and the LDS Woman

I am a professional organizer.  (Yes, I do this for a living.)  This weekend I organized a conference for Professional Organizers.  It’s been intense.

In my job, I organize people’s homes, pantries, offices, attics, files, and computers.  I talk to them about order, white space, letting go, and flow.   I believe I make a difference.  I take organizing a step further in companies as a project manager.  And I stretch my business skills as an entrepreneur.  I’m a fantastic networking living in a city of networkers.  My business is growing.

But …. I haven’t always been a business owner and an organizer.  I graduated BYU with a degree that met two criteria:  it was usable in the work place and it was flexible around motherhood.

And when marriage, motherhood (and a second income) didn’t come, I realized that I should have added a third criteria to my graduation standards: lucrative.  So, I did what every LDS woman does when she finds herself at 30 and still single, I went back to school and got an MBA.   

I tripled my salary and went to work in the non-profit world.  The path that brought me to entrepreneurship is longer than this post will allow, but, one thing, for sure: it was not a straight and narrow path.

I am satisfied with my current job and career situation.  The winding path that brought me here allowed me to know myself, leverage my strengths, and evolve into a career that fits well with my personality and my lifestyle.  This is the advantage of my slow starting career and my short-sighted choices as an undergrad.  The disadvantage is that it puts me behind.  Those who chose careers early and shot straight for them (often men) are way ahead of me in salary, opportunities, and job experience.

Did I fall into this path because I am a woman?  An LDS woman?  Or is my path unique?  So, some questions for the working LDS woman:

Suzette

Suzette lives in the Washington DC area and works as a Professional Organizer. She enjoys blogging and serving on the Exponent II Board. Her Mormon roots run deep and she loves her big Mormon family which includes 20 nieces and nephews, 6 sisters, 5 brother in laws, 2 parents – and dozens of cousins. Her favorite things about church are the great Alexandria wards, temple worship, and all things Visiting Teaching.

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10 Responses

  1. Melissa says:

    Hi–I teach a career exploration for women class at BYU and like to have panels of both stay-at-home moms and work-outside-the-home moms. Would you be interested in being on a panel? If so, please email me at imapsyc@gmail.com.

    Thanks–great post!

  2. Jesse says:

    In 7th grade, a speaker to my class claimed that people in my generation would have 7 different careers throughout their working years…not 7 jobs, 7 careers. As a result, I fully anticipated a winding path.

    My career choices have been based on my personal preferences and hopes for the future. Financial success was not something my parents (a teacher and a recreation specialist) valued. They valued personal fulfillment, outdoor time, personal relationships, opportunities to creatively solve problems, and opportunities for creative expression. I adopted my parents values completely.

    When I began meeting people who made life decisions based on financial considerations, I was baffled: friends whose parents would help pay for college only if they studied accounting, not if they studied architecture. This was not how I was raised.

    At nearly 40, I am perfectly happy with the results of my decisions. I have sufficient money for my current needs–which are minimal as I do not value on a lot of things to which my peers devote large chunks of their income: I don’t own a home, I drive an old car, and I buy my exercise clothes at thrift stores. I go on dates at local, state, and county parks (free), and get my exercise by commuting by bicycle (also free–and saves money on parking). I have had a richly rewarding personal and professional life, with many twists and turns and unexpected adventures: life is grand!

    I am currently (unexpectedly) enrolled in a graduate program. The confluence of many personal and professional experiences opened the door to a new opportunity…and I decided to step through. It feels amazing!

    Unless I come off as a total Pollyanna, I must say that while my parents did not value financial success, they did value financial prudence. I save what I earn so I can spend it on 1) things I value and 2) things that provide a good return on investment/long lasting value: a top-notch education, high quality health care, nutritionally dense foods, outdoor sports equipment, compatible technology so I can communicate with all of my extended family.

    I also realize I was undeservedly lucky in being born into a supportive, creative, (mostly) financially stable family–my path would have been remarkably different with a different upbringing or fewer fallback options.

  3. Maggie says:

    I answered yes to all 3 questions because I do know women for which all 3 are true. But I don’t so much think they apply to me. I am able to support myself but I wouldn’t call the work that I do a career. I would like to be able to do something a bit more challenging, fulfilling and lucrative. I was in no way prepared to support myself in my teen and college years.

  4. TopHat says:

    In college, I didn’t give a lot of thought to what I’d do afterwards. I never really “saw” myself in the workforce. I’m now 28 and have 3 kids and I’m spending the next 6 months getting education to jump back into the workforce. I hope that starting at 28 won’t put me too far “behind.” I get the feeling that the recession in 2008 put a lot of people my age back into school and off track in their careers, so I think I’ll do alright.

  5. Eliza says:

    I have always worked and never really imagined a life where I would not work. I never expected to marry/have children, but did consider the possibility when making career plans (in keeping with my nature to over plan everything, I had to consider all possibilities, even those I considered incredibly remote. Turns out this was a wise move as I did eventually marry and now have a child). So, I chose my field based on 3 criteria: it was personally fullfilling, provided opportunities for advancement and was compatible with raising a family (incidentally, as I researched possible careers, I found very, very few that did not meet the “compatible with raising a family” criteria. Especially if one has a flexible and supportive spouse). My career trajectory has not been linear, but it has been interesting, fulfilling and financially lucrative. I think the diverse roles and experiences I have had in my field are a distinct advantage, both personally and professionally. I have “arrived” at a point in my career where my salary exceeds my immediate needs, I have the flexibility to be a very hands-on parent and my professional work is interesting and challenging. I know I wouldn’t be in this exact position now if I had stopped working when my son was born but that is not to say I wouldnt have found an equally fulfilling position when I returned to work if I had chosen to stay home full time. My career today would be different, but probably not better or worse.
    I honestly do not know any other LDS women who have stayed in the workforce full time without interruption after having children, so I don’t know if my experience is at all reflective of others who have made similar choices. I do know many women who have returned to work after time away, but their experiences are widely variable. Some have returned to work and had immediate success, quickly making up for “lost” time and others have really struggled to find work and to develop a career path that meets their needs. For example, my mother was a sahm for 2 decades before returning to full time work where she immediately excelled and has rapidly advanced. I would say the only way she is “behind” her age peers who did not take 20 years “off” is in lifetime earnings. Whether this is a disadvantage would depend on one’s life circumstances, I suppose. She has not expressed regret about missing out on those years of earning potential, but others might. On the other hand, I have a close friend, with advanced education, who has struggled to find a position that uses her skills and education and has, out of necessity, worked in a position that she hates for several years making far, far less than she would if she had continued uniterrupted in a career in her field. In her case, her family needs her income and the lost earnings are a huge disadvantage.

  6. EFH says:

    I grew up knowing what my strengths were and that I always needed to be a working mother, whether marriage happened or not. Mothers staying at home is a very American idea and although you can find women who do the same thing in other countries, it is not a wide phenomena, especially in developing countries where two incomes are important and stabilize the family in every way. However, even though at church we talk about the NEED to have two incomes, women abroad work in order to be someone in the society and provide their contributions to it. People do not always work only for the money.

    I planned what I wanted to do and went to school and got internships with that strategy in mind. I think that having a strategy about your career as early as possible in life is very helpful to both genders. Sometimes, we might happen to find the right career path quickly and by chance but that is truly luck. The career path demands a lot of planning and hard work/networking as any other aspect in life, if not more.

    I do not know if women that take a long hiatus in their career due to childcare are better off in the long run than those who don’t. Knowing my field of work, I know that a woman with a masters from 20 years ago or even with a recent masters but who is starting her career in her late 30s or mid 40s, would have very little chances of succeeding (in the sense of making a meaningful career) in my field of work . In my field of study, the intl. experience/work experience and graduate school are very important. Without a CV, it is so difficult to start career late in life because you would be competing with people in their mid 20s who have done more than you. And you would be older than your own supervisor, which can put people a little bit at unease. You can get a job but I am not sure of starting a career in your 40s.

    However, I know that this is not the story for other careers. Some careers can be more flexible in terms of entering and exiting the labor market in your own terms.

  7. Emily U says:

    I saw my parents go through some tough times with unemployment and knew as a teenager I always wanted to be able to rely on my own earnings. I’ve always been employed full time, through raising 2 kids. I do not like my job, but I think that happens to a good number of people. When the opportunity comes I’ll make a career change.

  8. Naismith says:

    I have been a mom for 39 years. I was at home full-time for 12 years, employed full-time for less than 4 years, and have been employed as a part-time professional for the rest of the time.

    I love the advice in THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE about having a life plan. That is something that has worked out well for me.

    It isn’t care of my own children that has caused me to prefer part-time employment, but also being available to help with elders (including the illness and deaths of my own parents and one in-law), being able to help with grandchildren (one grandbaby had cancer), my church callings (including a few years as RS president in a high-needs ward), and household management. Balancing all those has been a better fit for me with part-time employment.

    I would make more money if I was employed full-time. But we KEEP more money when I am employed part-time (less outsourcing). We also have lower stress levels, and my husband’s career is better off.

    I’m also starting to see the benefits of household management and homemaking as my friends retire. Some of these women intentionally chose NOT to learn to cook or sew because they didn’t want to be “trapped” in a traditional female stereotype. They were proud that they had always earned an income. But now that they have a more limited income, they find that they can’t afford to eat lunch out every day, and are lacking some practical homemaking skills that would allow them to stretch their pension dollars. So I am grateful that the years at home allowed me to develop and explore my homemaking skills. I also feel that I “always worked,” because I worked hard every day whether or not I was being paid directly. (My graduate school mentor was so impressed with my work ethic and self-starting that she was much more open to accepting homemakers returning to the workforce, who she formerly saw as lacking ambition or career commitment.)

    Not sure what it means to be “behind.” I am screwed no matter how you look at it. Only by refraining from having children can I keep up with my male counterparts. I tried working throughout my first pregnancy, and all I did was lie around moaning at how sick I was. No real surprise when I got fired.

    Most of our clients have no idea that I am part-time, and I actually do work round the clock some weeks if there is a project due. (Tonight my husband is bringing dinner to my office because I can’t leave until later) I was nominated by colleagues to serve on the executive board of my national professional organization, and chaired a high-profile committee. I usually attend at least one professional conference per year.

    Most of the young moms in my ward have some kind of degree or plan to return to employment at some point. Of course the shift to a USAmerican retirement system that is defined contribution rather than defined benefit provides impetus.

  9. EmilyCC says:

    I love this poll and the responses! I returned to full-time work about a year ago after being home full-time for 7 years. I think my path was similar to your’s, Suzette, in terms of schooling. I didn’t really have a plan for what I was going to do with my Divinity degree, and I’ve kind of circled around and found my current career.

    I do feel behind much of the time, but the longer I get to know my work colleagues, I see that life happens to all of us, whether illness, taking another path, or rotten luck. Very few people have a straight shot to their dream career. And, maybe lots of other people feel just as behind as I do?

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