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Women may pursue a midlife career switch due to stress on the job, shifting priorities or a desire for greater flexibility in their professional lives.iStock

Thinking about ditching your current career and starting something brand new, despite – or because of – the pandemic? You’re hardly the only one, says financial expert Kelley Keehn. To research her new book, Rich Girl, Broke Girl, Ms. Keehn interviewed women from all sorts of backgrounds over the past couple of years, discussing careers and finances.

“Everything from surgeons to executives to small business owners – COVID just really threw a stick of dynamite on their lives. It was a wake-up call for a lot of people,” Ms. Keehn says.

That wake-up has meant launching new careers during midlife even as the pandemic continues to smoulder.

For some, wanting to follow a different career path can be traced back to a transformation in personal values. After 20 months of working from home, coveting the corner office seems so 2019. For other women, sandwiched between the needs of their pre-teens and aging parents, flexibility in their professional lives is now paramount.

Then there’s the stress of the current job. 23 per cent of employed Canadians report that their mental health is poorer now than it was before the pandemic. Manager and peer relationships have deteriorated, too.

But jumping ship and changing course comes with its own set of concerns. Is it a smart idea to start a second act while juggling dependents and mortgages, possibly turning your back on financial stability?

A pathway to income growth

If you dislike your job enough, the answer to that question is yes, says Ms. Keehn, even if it means taking a temporary pay cut. While these may be your peak earning years, “If you can’t sleep at night and you hate your life, that’s not fun,” she says.

Besides, the drop in pay won’t necessarily last long, says Ms. Keehn, if you’re willing to work your way up the new industry’s ladder by jumping on opportunities wherever they arise.

“At the end of the day it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” she says of the length of a woman’s career.

Ms. Keehn points to data in her book showing that employees who move between companies more frequently see their income grow faster. Women, however, need to ensure they’re more invested in their careers, and less invested in workplace relationships and keeping people happy.

“A guy will be like, ‘Oh well, got a better offer. I’ll have beers with you next week,’” Ms. Keehn says.

Seek out advice, and maybe take a break

The trick is to find an advocate who can help you make professional decisions, Ms. Keehn explains. Whether that’s a great financial advisor or planner, a head-hunter or a career coach, it pays to get advice from a third party before making any kind of professional leap.

“Your career is your fourth asset class,” she says. “But for a lot of women, no one is really helping them with these complex, major life decisions. It’s not just about what’s in your RRSPs or TFSAs that matters.”

Pivoting to a new career doesn’t necessarily mean jumping in immediately with two feet though. It’s OK to test the waters first. Or maybe even take a break.

Ms. Keehn recommends saving up for a self-imposed sabbatical, if possible. Whether it’s a month or even six months, use the time to explore your interests. Don’t wait for retirement. Do it now.

“Can you imagine how much that would stave off burnout?” she says. “I don’t know why we don’t talk about that more.”

Ask Women and Work

Have a question about your work life? E-mail us at

Question: An incident happened with one of my co-workers, someone I consider a friend. She was on the receiving end of a sexist, homophobic joke from another co-worker. When she told me about it, I was appalled and encouraged her to tell our supervisor, but she wants to let it go. Although it did bother her, she said she doesn’t want to cause trouble or seem difficult. I feel like I should say something to management, but I don’t want to go against her wishes. What should I do?

We asked Laura Williams, founder and managing partner at Markham, Ont.-based Williams HR Law LLP, to field this one:

Dealing with workplace harassment poses many challenges. While employees are increasingly sensitized to misconduct in the workplace and their employers’ obligation to address harassment, they are often unaware of the duty they have to ensure that the employer has all the information it needs to fulfill its obligations.

In Ontario and most other Canadian jurisdictions, protections from harassment are included in health and safety legislation, which is founded on an internal responsibility system that sets out duties for all workplace parties when it comes to ensuring a healthy and safe workplace environment. Where the harassment involves human rights, as in this case, there are also protections triggered under human rights legislation, but these include less specific reporting obligations.

Under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers are required to take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of their workers, including addressing all incidents and complaints of harassment. Employees are required to take all reasonable precautions for their own health and safety and that of others in the workplace, including bringing potential workplace hazards, such as workplace harassment, to the attention of the employer. Additionally, many workplaces have policies that reiterate the obligation to report incidents and complaints of harassment and for employees to participate in any resulting investigation process.

While your friend may have come to you to share her concerns in confidence, you are now aware of an alleged incident of harassment in the workplace. As such, you have an independent obligation to raise this with your employer if even your friend does not. To navigate this tricky situation, consider talking to your friend again, encourage her to report the situation in accordance with her workplace obligations, and let her know that you are obligated to make the report if she will not.

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