When we first set out on our careers, we often expect they will progress in a straightforward way, like stepping stones across a river.
But life rarely follows a perfectly direct path, and sometimes, our career journeys take us to unexpected places.
This can be particularly the case for those — often women — who take time out of the workforce or pursue different career paths in order to balance work and family.
But with supportive and flexible employers, career breaks and unconventional career pathways needn’t be an obstacle to advancement. In fact, the diversity of thought and perspectives they provide can often be a big benefit for employers.
A lack of flexibility has long been a barrier to women remaining in the workforce once they start a family.
Jane Nicholson, Sales Lead at VMware’s A/NZ Tanzu Labs, says that in different roles earlier in her career, flexibility became a significant issue. A lack of options made it hard to juggle her professional and personal life and eventually led Jane to take a break from her corporate career and start her own business.
“The toughest times for me were when my children were really small,” Jane says. “They really need you, and you feel guilty about not being there. In parallel, if you want to progress your career, you need to focus on that as well.”
But once her children were older and more self-sufficient, she felt the time was right to rejoin corporate life.
Things are changing for the better for women, she says. “I really hope that the younger women coming through just find it a bit easier than what I did.”
But the leadership of companies like VMware on diversity, equity, and inclusion is vital in driving the cultural change that better supports women’s careers — at work and at home.
It’s crucial that companies “walk the talk” in supporting women’s careers, as VMware does, Jane says.
“Companies need to ensure that they have diversity, equity, and inclusion policies that are embraced by everyone and taken seriously. They need to ensure that men are involved and engaged in those policies because men will play a major part in breaking down bias,” she adds.
More gender equity at work will have positive flow-on effects at home, she says. “Women will no longer shoulder the burden of the majority of domestic tasks. And that’s when we’ll have really big changes.”
Breaking down barriers
Aside from juggling personal and work responsibilities, many women worry that taking time out of their careers for family could create a perception that they aren’t serious about furthering their careers.
There is a fear that taking time out from the workforce or changing direction could slow their career progression.
Overcompensating for taking time out can place unnecessary pressure on women and other professionals returning to the workforce. Many are already managing increased commitments in their personal lives, as well as trying to get up to speed on any major industry changes that happen during their time away.
In days gone by, gaps in CVs were sometimes frowned upon and seen only as time spent out of the workforce. Fortunately, that perception is now changing.
VMware embraces flexibility, welcoming back professionals who have taken a career break with open arms, viewing them as valuable time for gaining fresh perspectives and experiences that bring value to employers and help ensure employees can enjoy a more balanced career.
Stretching the boundaries
This emphasis on continual development allows VMware’s people to grow and evolve in their professional and personal lives.
As Jane’s experiences show, support and flexibility can make a huge difference to careers — because who knows what new opportunity waits just around the corner.