by Sarah Hughes
There’s nothing like a good old global pandemic to make you really take stock of your life and reassess what you want from it. All that time at home gave us the time and space away from the hamster wheel of working life that we never knew we really needed.
While isolation brought with it a raft of problems, lots of people reported feeling relief at the enforced sabbatical from the office. It’s no wonder then that while 2021 was the year of the big think, 2022 is the year of the career change.
And the biggest shift is happening amongst female workers, who were undoubtedly hit hardest career-wise when the pandemic first hit in early 2020. So great was the effect on females in the jobs market, an article in Forbes dubbed it the ‘shecession’. Since low-wage and face-to-face jobs were the first to face redundancies at huge scale, women bore the brunt, owing to the sheer percentage of them working in those low-wage, face-to-face sectors. Even if women did not lose their jobs owing to the pandemic and it’s economic ramifications, across the world, they were having to give them up in order to care for children, as schools and daycare closed with alarming speed. Unfortunately the fact that in lots of households women were the lower earner, meant it was their career which was seen as disposable; no matter how much they may have loved it, or how much value it held for wider society.
But women are no less ambitious after surviving the Covid storm. In fact many of them are even moreso. The professional women’s network Allbright recently reported that 1 in 4 of their members were considering giving up work in order to launch their own businesses. Women are thinking outside the box, looking at new ways to earn money, whilst also feeling fulfilled and purposeful… that whole ‘You only live once’ saying really takes on a more profound meaning when you’ve watched the world shut down around you doesn’t it?
With an estimated 61% of women in search of a new career, what is it that they’re looking for from their fresh start? A survey conducted by LinkedIn cited improved mental health as a major driver. Many women who had worked in high-stress careers, having had time to relax and reassess, have decided to prioritise time with family and friends over long hours in stressful conditions. 2020 saw an exponential rise in women training to be yoga teachers, helped by the launch of online teacher training courses. Applications to holistic therapy, counselling and child-minding courses also increased throughout lockdown. Whilst some women were no doubt looking to fill some of that lockdown time or launch a side hustle, lots were undoubtedly laying the building blocks for a whole new career.
I was no different. I used that imposed time at home as a chance to reconsider where I was, in my late 30’s, and what changes I wanted to implement. I had worked as a personal trainer and Pilates instructor for the past ten years and although I loved it, I didn’t feel creative or inspired by it anymore. Plus, finally stopping exercising so much due to my classes all being cancelled, gave me the chance to see just how tired my body had gotten. I knew I couldn’t be doing anything so intensely physical in say, my fifties! Having always written (sporadically and with little discipline), I returned to it with a vengeance. I suddenly had the time to write pitches and make industry contacts. Two years on and writing is now my major source of income. I do it alongside my fitness work and the two freelance careers compliment each other really well. Had it not been for the pandemic I doubt I’d ever have taken the time to slow down and see how I could be much happier within my working life.
Another major factor women cited as a reason for changing career was to gain improved financial health. This means some are leaving freelance careers or ‘dream jobs’ in lower paid, caring or creative industries in favour of job security. As always, childcare costs are one of the dominant factors in this decision-making process. It seems tragic, knowing how much energy, passion and time might’ve been poured into those careers over the preceding years and decades. One upside to this situation is that science, technology and engineering programs are seeing higher female applications than ever before, meaning there will be greater representation of women in those previously male-dominated fields.
Something that really surprised me in my research for this article was the amount of women applying for jobs like nursing and teaching. A record number of 18 year olds in the UK applied for nursing degrees in 2022; almost astonishing when you think what nurses have had to endure during Covid, and with payscales woefully low. Similarly teaching, which has seen staff under unprecedented amounts of pressure in recent years, is attracting career-changers in abundance. Many see it as a recession-proof, safe job. Perhaps it’s also because we all gained so much respect for those key workers who were really at the coal-face during the lockdowns. The nurses, paramedics, teachers, carers,shop assistants. There’s a worthiness in those jobs that we had all previously overlooked.
Even those women who aren’t making drastic career changes, have strong opinions on how the workplace should operate differently post-pandemic madness. They want to work for companies who value them, who offer flexible working, acknowledge the need for a family life, and most importantly, pay enough to make childcare affordable.