Would you pass up a promotion?

2472920009_4d57cc5019_mSince Sheryl Sandberg’s book came out in March, there’s been a lot of discussion on leaning in, and various attitudes and barriers that might be holding women back. Why aren’t more women in leadership roles?

A recent Citi/LinkedIn poll of professional women looked at this issue specifically. Only 38 percent of women in this sample thought they would rise to a more senior leadership position in their companies. The biggest reason was a lack of opportunities to be promoted, but the second reason (cited by 30 percent of those who didn’t think they’d advance) was being reluctant to take time away from their families and personal lives.

I find this interesting in light of a few things. First, given that a study last week found that 4 in 10 families with kids have a female breadwinner, it’s interesting to see the proportion of women who think their primary contribution to their children should be time, not money. Many promotions come with reasonable raises, which would also, presumably, benefit the children.

But I also wonder if the time concern stems from a few common cultural narratives, too — namely, that success requires forsaking a personal life, or that more responsibility will bring about a home life chaos that isn’t worth the cost.

Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. Over at CBS MoneyWatch this week, I interviewed Karen Finerman, author of the new book Finerman’s Rules. Finerman is the CEO of Metropolitan Capital Advisors, a New York-based hedge fund. She’s also the mother of four children (including two daughters, which makes the subtitle of her book, “Secrets I’d only tell my daughters about business and life,” kind of strange — in that she’s not only telling her daughters. She’s telling us too! But I digress).

When she got an offer a few years ago to do a regular gig on CNBC’s Fast Money, she wondered how she was going to fit it all in. Indeed, she did go through a short fit of self-pity and exhaustion. But she also knew it was a big opportunity to raise her profile.

So she identified a few ways to make it work. First, to be on TV, she gave up watching TV. She gave up a hobby (modern art, in case you’re wondering — you get classy hobbies when you run a hedge fund). She learned to be efficient at live television: once you know what you’re doing, you can work from bullet points rather than creating a whole script for yourself. And she also got CNBC to come to her office to do hair and make-up. That’s time she doesn’t have to be in the studio, and can still be working.

Likewise, before turning down an opportunity, it would behoove anyone — women, men, parents, non-parents — to look at all the options, and don’t argue other people’s positions without knowing what they are. Maybe your spouse would be willing to step up things at home. Who knows? Maybe your spouse was hoping you’d get a big promotion so he/she could work less. Maybe your kids would like to live overseas for a year or two. Maybe your extended family would be willing to rearrange things to let you take an opportunity that requires travel.  Maybe, you could just try it and see how it goes. You can always switch to a different job later if you don’t like it — but at least you’re looking for a different job with a more senior position on your resume.

That was pretty much Finerman’s advice. As she told me, “You never know till you try it. Don’t turn it down — try it and see.” While I realize there might be some transaction costs if you try “it” and “it” is moving to Switzerland and “it” doesn’t work out, many new opportunities wouldn’t require such adjustments. Instead, they require sitting in your office at Metropolitan Capital Advisors attempting to look serious while you’ve got curlers in your hair. That’s doable.

In other news: See in Colors did an amazing illustration inspired by What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.

I’m interviewed over at Get Rich Slowly, offering time management advice.

The Atlantic has an interesting piece on leisure time and how much different demographic groups experience (what shouldn’t be surprising: single moms feel a lot of time stress).

Opportunity knocks! Photo courtesy flickr user tamburix

26 thoughts on “Would you pass up a promotion?

  1. Where I worked, a promotion usually came with 20% more hours, plus more travel, a 10% raise, and a possibility of a bonus, which has been paid about 2 of the last 10 years at the company.

    Working more hours for less money per hour never seemed logical to me, unless you like your job and want a chance at the jobs where you actually make more- but the span of control for those is such that only 1 in 100 people get there.

  2. I would not turn down a promotion to full professor. I would turn down a promotion to administration (department chair? dean? no thanks). That’s not the path I want to take.
    We have had (male) engineer friends resisting going into management for the same reason. It may pay more, but that’s really compensating differentials for having to do a sucky job instead of a fun one.

    1. @Nicole and Maggie – that raises a related, but different, issue of creating career paths that reward people’s actual skill sets. With teachers, promotions have often been into administration, but those are different skill sets, and it seems a shame to take a good teacher out of the classroom. A better approach would be to figure out how to expand his reach. I know some places are trying to come up with master teacher career tracks.
      BTW, thanks for the comment over at Get Rich Slowly – I was surprised it took all the way to like comment 20 for someone to haul out the “you can’t have it all” card.

      1. My favorite teacher opted not to go the Principal route, but did end up becoming the gifted coordinator for the district. She also ran a summer program for migrant kids. I wish she’d gone on the lecture circuit as well, as she was phenom. and a lot more people could have benefited, but she just laughed that off when I suggested it one summer.

        NP GRS. Generally they talk about daycares as baby farms pretty early on too.

  3. I think this is one are where your “gut feel” should lead the way. If you’re excited about it, want to do it, but can’t visualize the logistics, IME it means that the details will work themselves out.

    But sometimes the gut feel is just “no, I don’t want that path” – more money isn’t ALWAYS the better option, if more time is what you want instead.

    But I do agree that often people imagine things just CAN’T be done without exploring all the ways it might be possible.

  4. I’m sort of in this position now — I’m 7 1/2 months pregnant, and my boss wants to promote me. Great! Except that it comes with responsibility for attending a lot of night meetings on top of the normal 8-5 gig, not something I really want to do with a newborn. So my compromise is to kind of “slow walk” the promotion — hold it off for a year or so — until I’m in a better position to take on the responsibility. Luckily that timing works wells with some internal office politics stuff that a promotion would rile up, too, so I think it may all work out pretty well in the end.

    1. @Sarah – you rarely hear stories where internal office politics play the role of the good guy. Glad it’s working out in your case!

  5. I would consider myself to be “leaning in” quite a bit in my career – and really enjoyed Sandberg’s book, by the way – but there are just some things that I don’t want to do, even if they involve more money, sometimes significantly more. So, yes, I can imagine saying no to a promotion. Similar to ARC’s comment above, I think you have to ask yourself why you are saying no. Is it because you’re afraid you can’t do it or is it because you actually don’t want to do it? If the former, that seems to be where women trip themselves up. But, if the latter, more and bigger isn’t always better. I think we have to be careful while leaning in that we don’t fall in to something we don’t want to do.

  6. a friend of mine is going for a promo today and almost didn’t … we often do hold ourselves back — the having your hair done at your house should go on the “I don’t do laundry or grocery shop unless it’s delivery list” I have a friend who does my hair and my friends’ hair at my house and it saves me time and money– now if only the dentist, nail salon could be brought to the kiddie pool right? (I am serious here if the dentist and pedicure lady came to the kiddie pool that would up my happines by about 25%)
    I do think it is sad to not have any hobbies nor watch any tv…modern art seems really cool and having non commercial/non-aspirational pursuits seems good. I recently gave up watching a tv show I have been watching since I was 13. I do think that this can work for a short time but isn’t a long-term solution to happiness.. I did make an awesome new best friend in my neighborhood by not watching tv as much

  7. I am with Nicoleandmaggie. You have to be willing to turn down a promotion that transitions you from a job you love to a job you wouldn’t love. I am happy to be a full professor, but I don’t want to be an adminstrator.

    Also, while I am on the subject, I think we would do ourselves a favor but not using the family as an excuse to turn down a promotion when in fact the reason we are turning down the promotion is that the new job is a bad job.

    When I turned down a big admin position at my school recently, I made sure to say it was because I didn’t want to give up my research. I feel like it would be easier to say that it wouldn’t work with my family life, but I just didn’t want to send that message.

    1. @J – good for you for not using the family explanation. I’m reminded of various companies that have looked at their female brain drains. They assumed people were quitting to stay home with their kids…but they weren’t. They were working elsewhere. Which, from the company’s perspective, is much worse.

    1. @Ann- I’ve seen various versions of this argument floated around the last few days (Richard Thaler had a piece in the times, I think…) I tend to think that what we draw our self esteem from can change quite a bit, and given that there are numerous men — who feel quite masculine! — whose wives outearn them, perhaps we can study why they’re so well-adjusted rather than focusing on anecdotes of people whose marriages fell apart after the wives started earning big bucks.
      That said, I sometimes worry about writing too much on this as I’m not really living the story, as it were. I earn very good money. And I married a man from the very small percentage of the population that outearns me. What does that say about me? It’s not why I married him, and I’d like to someday outearn him as I think it would give him more options.

      1. Is there room in you “Dandelion and Hugs” research project to examine what works for the subset of respondents where the wife is the high earner? Would be good to have some data to understand and interpret. I am looking forward to the results of that particular project.

      2. Right now, my husband outearns me by a great deal but I earn a bit more on an hourly basis. I think considering hours worked is important. (including hours committed to travel which you might not define as work)

        If either parent is to have a job with last-minute travel, there must be a plan to not leave the toddlers home alone. Unless you have extended family or a live-in nanny, the spouse is the default.

        I’d like to see BOTH men and women working sane hours and able to their support families, but top jobs are usually not compatible with my definition of “sane hours”.

        Since we live on the West Coast, travel is particularly onerous, because flights are infrequent, often overnight, and very time-consuming.

      3. When our pastor made us read a book from the 70s or 80s during premarital counseling about how a guy shouldn’t feel bad that his wife is earning or out-earning him, I thought it was hopelessly outdated. But apparently not! All those poor fragile male flowers that still exist, at least in the mind of the media. (And, of course, a big reason marriages sometimes fall apart when the woman can earn enough to support herself is that she’s no longer trapped in a bad marriage and can escape if she wants to.)
        I think part of the reason my husband has never had a problem with me out-earning him (which I have except a few years in grad school) is because he’s big and burly. Nobody could possibly question his masculinity.

          1. It was a thick pink paperback. That’s all I remember. (We got married a long time ago.) If it helps at all, it was from an Episcopal priest who was unretired, so I assume he’d used it during his regular practice years prior. The book itself wasn’t particularly religious and had kind of a 1970s/80s liberal vibe. Sorry!

          2. Oh, and the don’t get stressed out about women’s lib meaning your wife wants to bring in her own income was like chapter 5/8 or something. I just don’t remember any of the other chapters. It was some kind of marriage manual but not just focused on people about to get married.

      4. I think this is just another example of how ingrained patriarchal norms can hurt men as well as women. There is absolutely no reason that a high-earning wife should make a man feel threatened- unless he was counting on using his greater earning power to control her, which is abusive and disgusting.
        I make more than my husband by a fair amount. He’s on a more rapid income growth curve right now, so he’s closed the gap in the last couple of years, but there have been times when I earned almost 50% more than him. This has never once been a source of stress in our marriage. In fact, I am currently considering a career change, and a lot of the discussion/planning is around how to keep my income high, even during the transition. So, if anything, the thought of having me earn LESS than him stresses him out. I think he would laugh at the commentators who are wringing their hands about how hard it is on the man in a couple when the woman earns more!

        1. @Cloud – I may have to write about this topic after all. People are quite in a tizzy about the terrifying epidemic of higher-earning wives…

          1. Our suggestion is that guys who feel threatened should get penis-embiggening surgery to fix the actual problem. (Get at the root of the problem, so to speak.)
            (Disclaimer: we at grumpy rumblings do not actually believe that penis size has anything to do with being a low-self-esteem douche, but we think that low-self-esteem douches do.)

      5. I see it more that women in the workforce make it OK NOT for men to stay home and do nothing but to own the full aspects of masculinity, which is what was once perhaps was relegated to women or not available when women did not work…
        Instead of using family as an excuse not to work — having us all attempt to self actualize and do and be better allows everyone more options and improves things like fatherhood — and grandparents and other things that are shown by research to help say kids. Everyone lives on a spectrum of masculine and feminine and on commercial versus recreational versus aspirational versus al the different aspects of a job — etc. so the idea is that actually yes a man whose wife can earn can then at some point say hey I’m going to take my xx skills and maybe do some volunteering… we all want a mix and have different skills and abilities and earning potential at different times etc. so I do agree with laura here — that we all want to self actualize, and that women doing it financially doesn’t come at men or childrens expense but is rather part of a larger conversation about what makes everyone better. if oscar pri.. (south african on trial for shooting to death his model girlfriend) — had a decent father and better male role models I honestly believe he would be in a better situation today so we as women have to look at how can we self actualize and also help men self actualize not just at work but overall… and not see our own self actualization as coming at someone else’s expense… but as our personal responsibility to a better society

      6. Maybe in your case the money is even less of an issue because you’re more public (and more well-known or “famous”) than your spouse? I’m assuming this is the case since you are a published author. I may be wrong!

      7. Huh, I didn’t know this was a “thing” for (some) men. I didn’t read the article carefully but I wonder if this covers the men that also consider all the “kid and house stuff” womens’ work, regardless of whether their wives work outside the home? Cultural? Generational? So odd – I would have thought overall more household income == better, regardless of who was earning it.

        I was consistently earning more than hubby until a few years ago (my going part-time, obvs plus his job switch to a better deal) and it’s never been a big deal, except that it makes it MUCH harder for us to decide who should scale back when to make our lives work the way we want. But you know, it’s a nice “problem” to have.

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