From the time Jennifer Chutter, 47, of Burnaby, British Columbia, was in 11th grade, she knew she wanted to be a high school English teacher. So she strategically planned her high school and college course selections to ensure she became the best English teacher she could be. And for five years, she was.
"It was a dream job," Chutter says. "I loved the energy of the kids in the classroom and the challenges teaching presented me with. It was actually kind of magical." After a few years, Chutter added to her credentials by completing a diploma in Special Education so that she'd be able to work with a broader spectrum of students.
Then she had kids.
Chutter had hoped that teaching would offer the flexibility she needed to spend time with her family. After all, job sharing and flexible options for teachers has been a hot topic for a while now. Instead, her job expectations became as rigid and outdated as what's found in the corporate world. When Chutter took the part-time option she was offered, the school board branded her as "uncommitted" and uninterested in pursuing leadership opportunities. She also found herself paying for a full-time spot at daycare for her toddler son even though he only attended on the days she was in the classroom.
Despite advocating for herself and proposing different options, Chutter eventually had no other choice but to quit and cobble together a less stable career with no benefits or clear pathways to advancement.
"I cried for weeks when I had to resign," Chutter recalls. And although she cherishes the time she spent with her own children, it's not without an understanding of the tradeoffs she was forced to make. "It all came at a cost to my career."
A workplace that doesn't work for women
For a long time now, women have been faced with a complicated landscape when balancing work and, well, everything else. Since 2019, there have been more college-educated women than men in the workforce. However, the gender wage gap persists.
According to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data, women of all races still only earn $.82 for every $1 made by men of all races. Mothers get an even smaller piece of the pie. Consider the cost of child care, which can run up to $1,230 monthly for one child. That's $15,000 annually.
Add in the facts that 60% of caregivers are women and millennial working women spend 4.57 hours on household chores daily compared to 2.91 hours for millennial working men. It's easy to understand why so many women end up opting out of careers when they become mothers or primary caregivers for aging parents.
"What we're seeing right now is that the archetype of most workplaces doesn't work for many people, especially women," explains Gina Hadley, the co-founder of The Second Shift, a company that connects experienced women with businesses offering remote and flexible job opportunities.
Remote, flex, and gig options on the rise
But there's good news. The old workplace model, which pegged folks who change jobs frequently — job hoppers-as they are sometimes called unreliable or uncommitted, is evolving.
"Today, it's all about the 'portfolio career,'" says Ann Shoket, the former editor in chief of Seventeen magazine and the founder of New Power Media, a community focused on connecting companies with the next generation of female leaders. As Shoket lays out in her book "The Big Life: Embrace the Mess, Work Your Side Hustle, Find a Monumental Relationship, and Become the Badass Babe You Were Meant to Be," it's becoming not just more common, but expected, that a career includes on-demand gigs and flexible side hustles that all complement each other. "Today's women in the workforce looked at the sacrifices women before them had to make and the narrow boxes that they had to slot themselves in to be successful, and decided that instead of a rigid nine to five regular schedule, they wanted freedom," says Shoket.
The remote workforce has grown 44% over the past five years. Indeed it's up 91% over the past decade. Plus, research about the workplace from Gallup shows that 54% of workers want more remote and flexible options and that flexibility increases engagement and strengthens employees' commitment to their employers.
These changes allow for more geographical diversity in the workforce, notes Gina Hadley, co-founder of The Second Shift. This marketplace connects highly-skilled professional women with employers seeking top-quality, on-demand talent. "Location diversity is finally becoming a reality," Hadley Says. "Companies can now hire someone who might not be able to afford to live in a hub like Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago — or wherever the company is located — but who makes a great addition to a team."
The best part is that companies are coming up with creative possibilities to offer their employees, like having specific days where the whole staff works from home at hours of their choosing. The bird's-eye view: Home-based, flexible, hybrid positions are what today's workforce wants and are the conditions in which today's workers thrive because work has become a thing you do, not a place you go.
"We moved from work/life balance to work/life integration," explains Hibaaq Abdillahi, community manager at The Mom Project, a digital talent marketplace and community that connects professionally accomplished women to remote, flexible, and project-based work. "The separation of work and home life has become blurred, and it's more about blending your professional life and your personal life in a way that complements each other so that you can prioritize work tasks when you need to and celebrate your child's birthday when you need to."
What this means for women
The upshot of all this change? More opportunities for women to successfully cobble together a career that's rewarding, flexible and financially viable. "Companies seem to be feeling more comfortable bringing in a consultant or a freelancer who provides direction for a project and then moves on to the next thing," says Amanda Wong, a senior integrated marketing consultant who's worked with brands including Pepsi, Neutrogena, Louis Vuitton and Warner Media's "Wonder Woman" franchise.
The remote and on-demand work landscape also offers women a better chance to find balance, she says. "It's not about working to live," says Wong. "Whether it's about finding time to exercise or spending time with your family, the increase in remote opportunities is good for women's mental health." Which means they're also good for women's careers in general.