Dear Corporate Governess
After opting out of my management job to be a stay-at-home mom, I'm back at work but feel stalled—working longer hours for less money than I was paid a decade ago. What tips do you have for getting back on the success track?
—Angelina M., Toronto
First off, don't apologize for stepping away to nurture your progeny. That choice—like daycare or hiring Mary Poppins—shouldn't doom you to cubicle backwaters. While you may have lost some momentum by breaking from your career path, you can catch up.
Pamela Jeffery, founder of the Women's Executive Network and mother of two boys, recommends you get busy building a strong internal network. The quickest way to move up is to identify somebody inside your organization who could be your sponsor, defined by Jeffery as "someone willing to put their neck on the line for you." To find that someone who can champion you to the company's decision makers, you have to ask. That comes from relationship-building, something the guys are really good at. "The guys help the guys," says Jeffery. "So it's really important that women help other women."
Don't expect an overnight promotion—you've got to invest some time, both with those above you and with potential allies at your level. And put in the effort at your job, especially if you need to upgrade in some areas. Jeffery also advises building up your relationship with the boss. To do that, in the succinct words of Sheryl Sandberg, you've got to "lean in": If you don't get this, buy her book.
Frankly, companies may be missing out if they're not recognizing the management skills you've added as a mother. "Mothers are used to being fully on from the time they get up in the morning," says Jeffery. "That's a great advantage in corporate life, where we start our days early. You can hit the ground running."
Dear Corporate Governess
Staff at my office, including me, are feeling pressured to accept early retirement packages. I'm not ready to retire at 55, but wonder what I might do with a wad of cash and a new direction, maybe with a NGO. Should I stay put or jump at it?
—Gordon T., Waterloo, Ontario
What's your debt load? If you owe over $100,000, like two-thirds of Canadian households, fuhgeddaboudit. Work a few more years to clear your bills and save—it isn't Freedom 55 if Visa owns you. While the average lifespan for Canadians is around 81 years, it's steadily increasing. You're looking at 25 years or more, so sit down with a professional to crunch numbers and be prepared to lower your expectations. If you didn't snag a defined benefit pension plan, you may have to strike that tour of Michelin-rated restaurants off your bucket list. Also, jump at any retirement planning your company offers and ask former colleagues who've made the transition how it's working out for them, particularly if they have launched new careers. NGOs are a great idea, but do your due diligence first. Most critically, what does your family think? Whatever your choice, it's always better with a cheering squad.