career

'Everyone talks about how to climb up the career ladder. No one talks about how to climb down.'

Danielle* has a dilemma; a career conundrum. 

“It’s quite anti-feminist,” she sighs. 

The 48-year-old has spent her entire career trying to get to where she is: a senior executive in the corporate world. She’s managed to smash the glass ceiling - the kind of woman whom, in 2020, we idolise. Her work ethic is enviable, her success is admirable and the fact that she has children, as well as a career, is deemed impressive. 

Working as the Head of Customer Experience for a large financial services company, Danielle is the only woman on the executive team. 

It’s been a hustle to get there. But now, as she tells Mamamia, she’s desperate to step down.

“You get on this treadmill and you climb the ladder. But you get to an age where you just think, ‘Actually, is this what I wanted? What am I trying to achieve? What is the point of all this work? I'm somebody who works hard to achieve what I want. And it's odd that now what I want to achieve is to go backwards in my career.”

Side note... Here's what you're like on a Zoom call, according to your star sign. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia

It’s an incredibly privileged position to be in - to have the financial security and stability to willingly walk away from your high-paying job before the age of retirement. To choose to be less busy. To know that if you do walk away, you'll be okay. 

Danielle knows that. But she sees this as a necessity for her wellbeing. A decision to reclaim a semblance of work-life balance - an ideal that has never been her reality, she says. 

"I’m never off, even when I’m on holiday. I’m on constant standby.”  

Taking a step back from the career ladder is known as downshifting - defined as the act of changing ‘a financially rewarding but stressful career or lifestyle for a less pressured and less highly paid but more fulfilling one’.

Danielle’s desire to unload her workload is for many reasons. Most importantly, she says, is for her children. 

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After decades of being a so-called ‘career woman’, Danielle - who has two sons, 13 and 17 years old - has concluded she simply can’t juggle it all. At least not while she’s one of the many women who are still doing most of the housework.

Indeed, a 2018 study by SBS and Macquarie University found that 86 per cent of women in Australia - nearly nine out of ten - say they do the majority of the housework. 

“Women can't juggle all of these things... We are still running the household. If we don't sort out the insurance, the insurance doesn't get sorted out.

“I think it's a societal expectation,” she reflects. “My male colleagues don't have any kind of expectation, even of themselves, that they will be there for all of their kids' events. For example, my CEO went to his kid's first swimming lesson the other day and everybody was like, ‘Oh, that's so amazing!” 

Like millions of others, the coronavirus pandemic forced Danielle to spend more time with her children. During lockdown, she realised just how little quality time she had been devoting to them previously. 

“They would come and jump on the bed and they would just sit there and tell me about their day. And this is not stuff that I'd ever been able to experience with them before. We’re a lot closer as a family.  I know more about my kids and I'm more involved in their lives because I was actually home and present for them.”

In the wake of that time, she finds herself asking: “Have I made the right decision? Was this all worth it?”

Danielle believes society has glamourised the ‘hustle’ lifestyle - for women and men - to an unhealthy and unsustainable point. 


Danielle believes society has glamourised the ‘hustle’ lifestyle. Image: Getty. 

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“It feels like if you're not working, hustling, pushing all the time, then you're somehow letting womankind down. What was I trying to achieve?  What is the end goal here? Why are we hustling? What are we hustling for?

“We tend to recognise and applaud women who are super busy. And I'm not just talking about women in business, but busy mums as well. We have this whole idea that to be successful and worthwhile, you have to be working your arse off the whole time. I think we've got to stop doing that, because it's not sustainable long term.”

Over the past few years, Danielle has gone through several life-changing moments, some of them traumatic, including leaving an abusive marriage and losing her parents. But the nature of her work means she didn't get any meaningful time off to process those events. She just had to keep working. 

Plus, she freely admits her capacity to compartmentalise has always been limited. 

“The accountability keeps me awake at night,” she continues. “You can't really control some things, but you also do not want to be that person sitting in the executive meeting going, ‘well, that's not my fault’. And you won't be that person, because you don't get to these roles by saying ‘it's not my fault’. You carry a lot of blame for a lot of other people's behaviour.”

As for what is Danielle's next step, she isn't sure. She says that when she has spoken to recruitment agencies about her potential paths, many say they say she is too qualified for medium-tier or low-tier jobs. 

"I mean this, there are days when I think, if I can get a job doing night stacking at Woolworths, I would do that. But I can tell you that Woolworths wouldn't give me a job, unless I lied on my resume."

It is a career conundrum indeed. All she wants to do is reject what she herself has worked so hard to achieve. All she wants to know is: How do you become more junior, when all your experience is senior?

*Name and some details have been changed to protect privacy. 

Feature image: Getty. 


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